The Interior Department announced Monday that it would resume new oil-and-gas leasing on public lands to comply with a federal court order, but environmentalists weren’t happy about it.
Climate groups urged President Biden to stick to his promise to ban drilling on federal lands and waters after the department said it would adhere to the June 15 preliminary injunction ending the pause on leasing sales while the Justice Department appeals the ruling.
“DOJ is appealing that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,” said the Interior statement. “Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing will continue as required by the district court while the government’s appeal is pending.”
The Interior’s announcement came hours after the American Petroleum Institute and 11 other energy trade groups filed a federal lawsuit of their own alleging that the “unprecedented” leasing pause violated federal law.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said he was “disappointed” in the administration’s decision to restart drilling auctions, insisting that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland “has the authority to pause leasing.”
“Holding more lease sales under today’s outdated standards is economically wasteful and environmentally destructive, and everyone not sitting in a fossil fuel boardroom knows it,” the Arizona Democrat said in a Monday statement.
Nicole Ghio, Friends of the Earth senior fossil fuels program manager, pointed out that Mr. Biden pledged during the campaign to “ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters.”
“It’s encouraging that the Biden Administration is appealing this wrongful decision,” said Ms. Ghio. “However, the President made a promise to ban all new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, and the American people expect him to keep it. The climate emergency reality we are facing demands immediate action, not acquiescence.”
The department dragged its feet for two months before agreeing Monday to hold new auction sales, acknowledging U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty’s injunction pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by 13 states.
“Interior will proceed with leasing consistent with the district court’s injunction during the appeal,” said the department. “In complying with the district court’s mandate, Interior will continue to exercise the authority and discretion provided under the law to conduct leasing in a manner that takes into account the program’s many deficiencies.”
In an apparent bone to environmental groups, the department also announced it would “release a notice of intent to conduct a review of the federal coal leasing program later this week.”
In his Jan. 27 executive order, Mr. Biden directed the department to pause new drilling auctions pending a comprehensive review of the federal oil-and-gas leasing program, which is still in the works.
“Separately, Interior continues to review the programs’ noted shortcomings, including completing a report,” said the statement.
Ms. Haaland has moved the goalposts on the completion date for the review, saying on June 23 that the review would be finished by “early summer.” She said on July 22 that it would come out “soon,” leading to fears that the pause would become a de facto ban.
Mary Greene, National Wildlife Federation public lands attorney, called for “permanent reforms to our nation’s antiquated oil and gas leasing program.”
“While the Biden administration responds to the court, we urge the Department of Interior to issue its reform initiatives so that the outdated leasing system is modernized for the benefit of our public lands, wildlife, and all Americans,” she said.
Tim Donaghy, Greenpeace USA senior research specialist, said that there were “still many avenues for President Biden to consider in reforming leasing and we urge him to do everything he can to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman: “With the climate crisis smacking us in the face at every turn, it’s hard to imagine a worse idea than resuming oil and gas drilling on federal lands.”