GILLETTE, Wyo. — A federal judge decided Friday that the Biden Administration had the authority to postpone oil and gas lease sales in early 2021, despite industry groups’ challenges.
Western Energy Alliance and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming challenged the president, the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. In a joined case, the State of Wyoming sued the Secretary of the Interior, the BLM, the BLM’s acting director and the Wyoming State BLM acting director.
U.S. District Court of Wyoming Judge Scott Skavdahl found that the BLM was legally allowed to postpone the sales to ensure it fully considered environmental harms.
In a 2021 executive order, the Biden Administration directed the Department of the Interior to temporarily pause new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and offshore waters so it could review the program and how to address its impact on the climate.
In June 2021, Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction stopping Biden’s order, with the caveat that the government could postpone sales based on the National Environmental Policy Act.
On Aug. 18, Doughty blocked the leasing pause in 13 states that sued over the order in Louisiana District Court, a day after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the preliminary injunction because it lacked specificity and the executive action had not been finalized.
Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center represented 21 Wyoming groups that supported the lease sale postponements and leasing pause. The 21 groups include Powder River Basin Resource Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Indian People’s Action and Western Organization of Resource Councils.
“We are pleased to see this well-reasoned order in such an important case,” the groups said in a statement Powder River Basin Resource Council Executive Director Robin Bagley sent County 17. “We hope that moving forward, the Biden administration won’t shy away from exercising its authority to limit oil and gas leasing in order to protect our climate and the environment.”
National Tribal Energy Association CEO and Chairman Daniel Cardenas said he believes this case may go to the Supreme Court since courts are disagreeing on it and it’s a contentious issue.
“I think [the federal judge’s decision] is a bad decision, but I don’t think the impact’s going to be immediate,” he said.
He said that he’s not sure if it will impact Indian lands and he doesn’t know whether the Biden Administration has thought that part out. He said he also doesn’t know the scope of the impact of the 2021 leases.
Wyoming Integrated Test Center Operations Manager Jim Ford was not immediately available for comment.