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Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Remains In Flux During Program Reviews

The legal push and pull between the Biden Administration and oil industry stakeholders continues after a district court judge ordered the administration to remove a pause on new oil and gas lease sales on public lands.

The administration is balancing a review of federal mineral leasing with pushback from industry groups and state officials.

The U.S. Department of the Interior on Thursday announced it will conduct a review of the federal coal leasing program, one part of the Biden Administration's probe into federal oil and gas leasing programs and their climate impacts.

Earthjustice lawyer Jenny Harbine was one of the environmental advocates to welcome the news on Thursday. She wants the Biden Administration to put a permanent end to coal leasing on public lands.

“We’re very encouraged by this decision to initiate a review of the federal coal leasing program. We will continue to urge action,” Harbine says. 

While environmental groups eagerly anticipate reformation of federal oil and gas and coal leasing programs, industry members are fighting to remove mineral leasing restrictions President Joe Biden put in place when he took office.

In January, Biden froze lease sales in order to reevaluate the federal oil and gas leasing program with environmental wellbeing and greenhouse gas emissions in mind.

Montana Petroleum Association is one of a dozen oil and gas groups that sued Monday to end the administration’s indefinite hold on oil and gas lease sales.

“The goal of the lawsuit is to force the department of the Interior to abide by federal law,” says Alan Olson, Montana Petroleum Association executive director.

Federal law says the president does not have the power to stop quarterly lease sales according to a Louisiana district court judge’s June ruling. The judge ordered the Department of the Interior to resume quarterly lease sales, which on Monday the department confirmed it’ll do for now while it appeals the decision.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen was one of 13 state attorneys general to sue in Louisiana district court. Kndusen said on Thursday he had expected the Biden Administration to appeal the judge’s ruling.

“We’ll see what the fifth circuit has to say and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Knudsen says. “We may end up all the way in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, but we’re certainly prepared to do that if we need to.”

The Department of the Interior says in its Monday statement that it’s reevaluating the oil and gas leasing program to factor in climate change and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and will “conduct leasing in a manner that takes into account the program’s many deficiencies.”

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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