Defending the Biden Administration’s Oil, Gas Leasing Pause

Nearly 25% of climate-cooking emissions from the United States come from fossil fuels pumped or mined from lands and waters that belong to all Americans. Drilling and the climate change it causes are worsening habitat destruction.

Case Overview

In recent years, the federal government has handed over vast swathes of public lands and waters to private corporations to drill for oil, mine for coal, and otherwise exploit.

During his first week in office, President Biden directed the Department of Interior to pause new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters while the administration reviews the federal oil and gas program.

On behalf of farmers and ranchers, conservation, recreation, and tribal groups, Earthjustice and conservation groups have moved to intervene to defend the Biden administration’s pause on federal oil and gas leasing pending the Department of Interior’s comprehensive review of the program.

The groups seek to defend the leasing pause against lawsuits filed by Wyoming, the Western Energy Alliance, and 14 states. The coalition argues this is the legal and necessary first step to a long-overdue review of the federal oil and gas leasing and permitting program.

Oil and gas pollution disproportionately harms low income communities. Air pollution from oil and gas extraction causes public health harms, and long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with higher COVID-19 mortality rates. A pause on oil and gas leasing and re-evaluation of the entire leasing program is a step toward addressing the disproportionate harms on these front-line communities.

In the Trump era, the oil and gas industry stockpiled more than 7,000 federal drilling permits — permits for new drilling that will take years for industry to complete. The industry has also stockpiled more than 13 million acres of public lands oil and gas leases. That means the oil and gas industry can continue operating as normal for years.

Drill sites light up the evening sky in Pawnee National Grasslands, Colorado.
Drill sites light up the evening sky in Pawnee National Grasslands, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Bryce Bradford)

Case Updates

September 6, 2022 Press Release: Victory

Court Rejects Wyoming, Industry Challenge to Biden Administration Postponement of Oil, Gas Lease Sales

Judge finds that Bureau of Land Management acted within its legal authority when it postponed lease sales to consider environmental harms

June 28, 2022 In the News: The Hill

Biden administration to hold its first oil drilling lease sales on federal lands

Michael Freeman, Senior Attorney, Rocky Mountain Office, Earthjustice: “Why are they having these lease sales given the climate impacts that the Biden administration itself recognizes? There’s a clear contradiction between what the Biden administration says it wants to do on climate and what it’s doing with these lease sales.”

January 27, 2022 In the News: Washington Post

Biden fails to change course on fossil fuels, despite a bold campaign pledge

Jenny Harbine, Managing Attorney, Northern Rockies Office, Earthjustice: “The opportunity costs of not doing something will be felt generations into the future if this administration doesn’t reverse course quickly and begin to align its actions with its words.”