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Legal Battle Expands Over Oil/Gas Lease Pause

Nicholas A. Tonelli/Flickr

A legal battle is unfolding over the Biden administration's pause on oil and gas lease sales on public lands.Wyoming and industry groups filed lawsuits to block the move in federal court, and last week 21 farmers, ranchers, conservation, recreation and tribal groups countered with a suit defending the administration's efforts to determine if leasing unfairly benefitted companies over taxpayers and the need to mitigate climate change.

Eric E. Huber, managing attorney for the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, said fossil-fuel development on public lands is a major contributor of climate pollution.

"So roughly a quarter of the United States' contribution to greenhouse gases that cause climate change are coming from oil and gas and coal and other things coming from our public lands," Huber explained.

Conservationists said the pause also is a necessary step toward addressing the disproportionate health impacts from air pollution on low-income and communities of color. Opponents claim the move will lead to job loss and hurt state and local economies.

Thirteen states also filed suit in a Louisiana federal court arguing regular lease sales are required by law.

The administration's pause to review the leasing program does not affect the oil and gas industry's current stockpile of some 13 million acres of public-land leases, many purchased for as little as two dollars an acre.

Huber noted the pause for new leases will not disrupt current fossil-fuel production.

"The industry has thousands of leases already locked up," Huber pointed out. "So there is not going to be an immediate effect in terms of loss of jobs or stopping any ongoing fracking."

Huber added oil and gas leasing also prevents other uses on lands owned by all Americans, including recreation, tourism and other sustainable economies he believes benefit communities far more in the long run.

The Biden administration is expected to release an interim report on its review of the leasing program this summer.