WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Fourteen states are suing President Joe Biden’s administration to challenge his pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.
The legal actions Wednesday, which seek to restore regular federal drilling auctions, come a day before the administration is set to launch a review of the oil and gas leasing program.
Biden signed an executive order in January that put on hold new leasing, pending the review. During his election campaign, he pledged to end new federal leasing as part of a sweeping plan to address climate change.
The pause has triggered heavy criticism from the oil industry and from producing states that receive half of the revenues generated from federal lands drilling within their borders.
A coalition of 13 states filed one lawsuit in federal court in Louisiana, while Wyoming filed its own lawsuit in federal court in that state.
The states joining Louisiana’s suit included Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. All have Republican attorneys general.
The lawsuits allege the administration’s leasing pause violates the Mineral Leasing Act that requires quarterly lease sales.
In its lawsuit, Wyoming said the administration was also required to conduct an environmental review of the leasing suspension under the National Environmental Policy Act before taking action.
“The real consequences of the action are far from certain and far from uniformly environmentally friendly,” Wyoming said in its complaint.t
The coalition’s lawsuit notes that coastal states receive significant revenue from onshore and offshore oil and gas activity. Stopping leases, the lawsuit argues, would diminish revenue that pays for Louisiana efforts to restore coastal wetlands, raise energy costs and lead to major job losses in oil producing states.
Although Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and the lawsuit’s supporters said the moratorium has already driven up prices and endangered energy jobs, Biden’s suspension doesn’t stop companies from drilling on existing leases. But a long-term halt to oil and gas sales would curb future production and could hurt states like Louisiana that are heavily dependent on the industry.
Biden’s team has argued that companies still have plenty of undeveloped leases — almost 14 million acres in western states and more than 9 million acres offshore. Companies also have about 7,700 unused drilling permits — enough for years.
Administration officials have declined to say how long the pause on lease sales will last.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, responding to a question about the lawsuits, said former President Donald Trump’s administration had “flooded the oil markets with cheap federal leases. This will not affect oil and gas markets for years to come.”
The Department of Interior, which oversees the federal leasing program, did not comment on the lawsuits.
The department is hosting a livestreamed forum on the leasing program Thursday as it considers changes that could affect future sales and how much companies pay for oil and gas they extract. A report outlining initial findings and the next steps in the review is due this summer.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Reporting by Reuters’ Nichola Groom and Andrea Shalal and AP’s Matthew Daly and Matthew Brown.