OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
The Biden administration was hit with an immediate lawsuit Wednesday over its decision to halt oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.
The Western Energy Alliance, a group representing fossil fuel producers active on federal lands, sued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, alleging President Biden exceeded presidential authority.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Alliance, described Biden’s action as a “ban,” despite his administration describing the order as a temporary moratorium on leasing while the administration reviews how to better balance oil and gas with developing renewables on federal lands and waters.
The administration did not provide a timeline for when the pause would end.
“The law is clear. Presidents don’t have the authority to ban leasing on public lands. All Americans own the oil and natural gas beneath public lands, and Congress has directed them to be responsibly developed on their behalf,” Sgamma said.
ClearView, an energy research group, reads the law differently.
In a note, the group said the secretary of the Interior Department has broad discretion in managing public land.
The Mineral Leasing Act, the group, says, requires the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to sell fossil fuel leases on a quarterly basis, but another statute, the Federal Land Policy, and Management Act, allows for the withdrawal of public lands from energy leasing in emergency situations.
Biden could suspend leasing under the latter statute while the Interior Department rewrites Resource Management Plans to define the appropriate uses of federal land.
For example, the department could emphasize conservation or renewable energy development instead of oil and gas leasing.
His order does not affect existing oil and gas leases, which can last for up to 10 years, meaning drilling can continue on federal land in the West as well as the Gulf of Mexico, which stands to be most affected.
Despite concerns the administration would also freeze permitting, the Interior Department says the pause “won’t impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved.”
Earlier this week, a Native American tribe that produces oil also went after the Biden administration.
The Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee in Utah slammed the Biden administration and requested it is exempt from a temporary suspension of oil and gas leasing on federal and tribal lands.
“Your order is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination. Indian lands are not federal public lands. Any action on our lands and interests can only be taken after effective tribal consultation,” Luke Duncan, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee in Utah, said in a letter to acting U.S. Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega.
“The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation respectfully requests that you immediately amend Order No. 3395 to provide an exception for energy permits and approvals on Indian lands. The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy-producing tribes rely on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members,” the letter added.
“Order No. 3395 violates the United States treaty and trust responsibilities to the Ute Indian Tribe and violates important principles of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Your order was also issued in violation (of) our government-to-government relationship. Executive Order No. 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, and Interior’s own Policy on Consultation with Tribal Governments,” the letter continued.