The latest ruling may help reinvigorate Biden’s efforts to reform the federal government’s oil and gas leasing program in its fight against global warming. Emissions of fossil fuels extracted on federal lands account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s heat-trapping carbon-dioxide pollution.
But the question of whether the oil and gas leasing program can be curtailed to address global warming has ping-ponged from one federal court to another, with none seemingly able to make a lasting decision. Ending any new extraction of oil and gas from public lands is further complicated by the politics of high gasoline prices as well as Democrats’ recently enacted climate, health-care and tax package.
A compromise won by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) in that bill mandates new oil and gas sales off the coast of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico, which climate advocates had opposed. The legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act, also tethers the construction of wind turbines along the East Coast and solar farms in Southwest deserts to ongoing oil and gas auctions.
Interior Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the Biden administration is reviewing Wednesday’s decision.
During the 2020 race, Biden pledged to halt new oil and gas drilling — “period, period, period,” he said on the campaign trail. One of Biden’s first actions in office was to pause leasing to review the program.
But U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty in Louisiana struck down Biden’s Jan. 27, 2021, executive order, at the time dealing a major blow to the president’s plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The decision by Doughty, an appointee of President Donald Trump, highlights the challenge in curbing fossil fuel production when current law directs the government to hold auctions. The authority to suspend oil and gas leasing lies “solely with Congress,” Doughty wrote.
After the moratorium was struck down, the Interior Department held the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history, putting 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico up for auction.
But only a fraction of that area — about 1.7 million acres — actually sold, and before the leases could take effect, yet another federal judge invalidated the entire sale. That decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the government had justified the sale using a flawed analysis written during the Trump administration, which assumed that the climate impacts would be worse if the acreage went unsold.