Appeals court revives Biden pause on federal oil, gas leases

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President Biden's pause on federal oil and gas leases is back in effect, at least temporarily, after an appellate court ruling threw out an injunction against the administration.

In a Wednesday ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that when a lower court blocked the move, which halted new leases, they were not specific enough.

"We cannot reach the merits of the Government’s challenge when we cannot ascertain from the record what conduct—an unwritten agency policy, a written policy outside of the Executive Order, or the Executive Order itself—is enjoined," the ruling said, according to The Hill.

The injunction, from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, said that the Department of the Interior, as well as other agencies and officials, were blocked "from implementing the Pause of new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters as set forth in Section 208, Executive Order 14008," and "in all documents implementing the terms of said Executive Order by said defendants, as to all eligible lands."

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When they announced in August 2021 that they were appealing the injunction, the Interior Department stressed the need for the pause, noting that "federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing programs are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions and growing climate and community impacts."

Joe Biden

The department also said at the time that "federal oil and gas programs inadequately account for environmental harms to lands, waters, and other resources, foster speculation by oil and gas companies, and frequently leave impacted communities out of important conversations about how they want the public lands and waters managed."

With the injunction lifted, the matter goes back to the lower court.

When reached for comment, a Department of the Interior spokesperson said they were "reviewing the decision."

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President Biden announced the pause on federal oil and gas leases in the early days of his presidency as part of his push to move away from fossil fuels. Existing leases remained in effect. 

In November 2021, the Department of the Interior released a report on the federal oil and gas leasing program, which had been ordered by Biden at the time he called for the pause. The report highlighted a need for reform, and made recommendations "to provide a fair return to taxpayers and to steward shared resources."

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