Trump-Appointed Judge Blocks Biden Moratorium on Oil and Gas Leasing

A Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana issued a permanent injunction Thursday against President Joe Biden’s moratorium on oil and gas lease sales on public lands and waters, a decision that came just 24 hours after a different court ruled that the administration’s long-blocked drilling freeze could take effect.

Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, the same judge who temporarily halted Biden’s lease sale moratorium last year, sided Thursday with the 13 fossil fuel industry-friendly Republican attorneys general who sued to block the pause.

Doughty’s ruling applies only to the 13 states that took legal action against the Biden administration: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

Just a day before Doughty’s ruling — which contends that the Mineral Leasing Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act “require government defendants’ agencies to sell oil and gas leases” — a federal appellate judge struck down the Trump judge’s earlier injunction, sending it back to the lower court.

The Biden administration has repeatedly cited court rulings against the president’s moratorium as an excuse to move ahead with lease sales on public lands and waters, despite a Justice Department memo arguing that Doughty’s 2021 injunction did not require the administration to actively auction off huge tracts of federal property for oil and gas drilling.

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden vowed to prohibit all “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters” as part of his effort to rein in planet-warming emissions. According to one analysis, fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters has accounted for roughly 25% of all U.S. carbon emissions since 2005.

But during its first year in power, Biden’s administration approved drilling permits at a faster pace than its overtly industry-allied predecessor.

And last month, the Biden Interior Department sparked outrage among environmentalists by suggesting it would be willing to greenlight new oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coast of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which Biden signed into law earlier this week, contains provisions that mandate fossil fuel lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, a giveaway to the oil and gas industry and its leading Democratic ally in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Denouncing the lease sale provisions in the IRA, Earthworks said in a statement late last month that “avoiding climate disaster requires us to stop all new oil and gas drilling on U.S. lands and waters now and begin phasing existing extraction out entirely.”