Judge Blocks Biden Administration’s “Pause” on New Oil and Gas Leases on Public Lands

On Tuesday, Judge Terry Doughty issued a ruling granting a request for a preliminary injunction in the Western District of Louisiana. The request was in response to one of President Joe Biden’s executive orders which instructed the Secretary of the Interior to pause new oil and gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive review.

The court stated that it possesses judicial power to hear the case because the plaintiffs, a group of 13 states led by Louisiana, have suffered an injury in fact, can fairly trace this injury to the actions of the defendant, and because the issue would likely be redressed by a favorable decision. The court came to this conclusion based on the declarations of professors David Dismukes and Timothy Considine, as well as a Louisiana State Legislature member. Collectively, they assert that this order damages these states’ economic activity, state revenue, oil investments, job market, and plans for environmental restoration.

The court also stated that the plaintiffs’ claims are reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act because it satisfies the four requirements of the statute. None of the statutes cited by the plaintiff preclude judicial review of the claims. The states alleged that the government’s actions are contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious, were not adminsitered under the notice-and-comment rulemaking procedure, and unreasonably withheld and delayed agency required activity. The pause and/or lease cancellations on the part of the defendant are actions from which legal consequences will flow, the ruling said. The plaintiffs also argued that the actions violated the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and Mineral Leasing Act.

In order for a preliminary injunction to be enforced on the pause, the plaintiff must first establish that there is in fact a pause as described in their complaint. The plaintiff first cited the language used in the order and in other communications between defendants as proof of pause. The order stated “the Secretary of the Interior shall pause new oil and natural gas leases in public lands or in offshore waters.” Additionally, a section in the fact sheet for the order is entitled “Hitting pause on new oil and gas leasing.”

Aside from the actual language, the numbers back up the claim of a pause as well. Since the date of the Executive Order, no new oil and gas leases on federal lands have taken place and none of the scheduled sales for the first quarter took place, the ruling said. Lease sales in numerous states were postponed with the only reason, if any, being that they needed to conduct further environmental analysis.

The court required that the plaintiff prove three elements in order to have their injunction granted. On the issue of the plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits, the court found that the defendant’s actions were arbitrary, without notice, and unreasonably delayed, in violation of the APA. Addressing the claim of irreparable injury, the court agreed that the plaintiffs’ loss of proceeds in relation to scheduled lease sales is enough to constitute a substantial threat of injury due to irrecoverable profit losses. Lastly, the court found that the threatened harm upon the states involved outweighs the harm experienced by the defendant if an injunction were granted because these states could potentially lose billions of dollars if nothing is done. The public would also benefit from an injunction because it’s in the public’s best interest for the law to be followed.

Based on these conclusions, the court issued the requested preliminary injunction against the government defendants. As a result, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, are now enjoined and restrained from implementing the pause of new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters as set forth in the executive order.