A federal district court blocked the Biden administration's moratorium on federal oil and gas leasing, a potentially fatal blow to the policy that has been tied up in a legal battle since early 2021.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana Judge Terry Doughty issued a permanent injunction blocking the leasing moratorium in a ruling late Thursday evening.
Doughty wrote that President Biden "lacked any authority" to implement the policy under the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) which regulate federal leasing on public lands and waters.
"The Court finds Section 208 of Executive Order 14008 is ultra vires, beyond the authority of the President of the United States, and in violation of the OCSLA and the MLA," he wrote in the opinion. "Even the President cannot make significant changes to the OCSLA and/or the MLA that Congress did not delegate."
Biden issued Executive Order 14008 — titled the "Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad" — on Jan. 27, 2021, days after taking office. The action ordered the Department of the Interior (DOI) to pause new oil and natural gas leases, a policy Biden pledged to pursue during his 2020 campaign, while it conducts a review of the federal leasing program.
The DOI completed the review in late November.
"President Biden’s executive order to choke off energy development didn’t just increase prices and hurt American families — it was flatly illegal," Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said in a statement after Doughty issued his ruling Thursday. "This decision is a victory for the rule of law and the workers and the rural communities who depend on the energy industry."
In March 2021, Montana joined a 13-state coalition challenging the moratorium. Three months later, Doughty issued a preliminary injunction blocking the policy from going into effect.
However, the Biden administration appealed the decision, arguing the president had the authority to pause leasing. On Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Doughty on a procedural matter, leading to his permanent injunction Thursday.
"This decision is a significant step toward ending the ongoing uncertainty over the future of energy development on federal lands and waters," Frank Macchiarola, the American Petroleum Institute's (API) senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, said in a statement Friday.
While both the OCSLA and MLA outline processes for the president to modify the leasing programs, the two laws don't enable a complete pause, according to API.
The federal government may choose to appeal the lower court ruling.
The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.