Green groups want ruling on Wyoming fossil fuel leases to embolden Biden

Green groups want ruling on Wyoming fossil fuel leases to embolden Biden
Royalty-free stock photo ID: 374037136 Flare system of the sea oil production platform.

A coalition of 21 green groups on Friday welcomed a U.S. judge's ruling rejecting a challenge by Wyoming and the fossil fuel industry to the Biden administration not holding oil and gas lease sales early last year.

"We are pleased to see this well-reasoned order in such an important case," the groups—which were represented by Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), and defended the administration's postponements and leasing pause—said in a statement.

"We hope that moving forward, the Biden administration won't shy away from exercising its authority to limit oil and gas leasing in order to protect our climate and the environment," the coalition added.

The industry petitioners filed their suit on January 27, 2021—the day of newly inaugurated President Joe Biden's relevant executive order—and updated their petition in February and again in March. Wyoming launched its case on March 24, 2021.

Given the timing of both petitions in the consolidated case, Wyoming-based U.S. District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl considered whether the industry petitioners and state have the standing to challenge Department of the Interior (DOI) leasing actions related to either the first or second quarter of last year.

Skavdahl concluded that industry petitioners lack standing to challenge DOI moves beyond the initial filing date "because such later action is not necessarily 'final agency action' at the time their standing is determined." He similarly ruled that the state "lacks standing to challenge anything beyond the first-quarter lease sale postponements."

The judge further found that the administrative record shows the first-quarter lease sale postponements "were not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion," and did not violate the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Mineral Leasing Act, or National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In fact, he noted, "substantial evidence in record supports the DOI secretary's decision to postpone the March 2021 lease sales over concerns that the associated environmental assessments did not satisfy recent federal court caselaw that had found similar EAs lacked sufficient NEPA analysis."

Skavdahl's ruling comes after U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty last month doubled down on his 2021 decision to block Biden's oil and gas leasing moratorium. Doughty's new injunction does not impact Wyoming—it only applies to the 13 states involved in the case: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

That recent move by Doughty—an appointee of former President Donald Trump—came just a day after Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit struck down his 2021 nationwide injunction, concluding that it lacked necessary specificity.

While the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act is set to force more fossil fuel lease sales for federal lands and waters, climate campaigners continue to pressure the president to end the extraction of oil and gas from such spaces.

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