Interior Secretary Deb Haaland appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senators press Interior Secretary Haaland on oil lease pause

Murkowski said she was flabbergasted that Haaland did not address the court ruling.

By Matthew Daly

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Both Republican and Democratic senators pressed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for answers Wednesday after a federal court blocked the Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.

In a sharply worded ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana ordered that plans for lease sales continue in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Alaska and in “all eligible onshore properties” nationwide. The ruling came after President Joe Biden shut down oil and gas lease sales from the nation’s vast public lands and waters in his first days in office, citing worries about climate change.

“It’s a fresh decision. Our department is reviewing the judge’s opinion as we speak and consulting with the Justice Department,” Haaland said under questioning at a Senate hearing on her department’s budget.

“We will respect the judge’s decision. Any other information will be forthcoming,” she said.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Interior subcommittee, said she was flabbergasted that Haaland did not address the court ruling — or the government’s vast oil and gas leasing program — in her prepared remarks.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, right, speaks with a reporter while arriving for a Senate vote, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, right, speaks with a reporter while arriving for a Senate vote, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“I was really struck by the fact that in 17 pages of discussions outlining the budget there really is no recognition for the production on our federal land and the role that plays,” Murkowski said.

In light of the court ruling, she told Haaland: “I expect to hear your plans to resume implementation of those lease sales. We expect you to follow the law.”

Haaland, a former Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, responded, “I will always follow the law.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana also appeared impatient with Haaland, saying the review ordered by Biden — nearly two months before Haaland took office in mid-March — appeared to be dragging on.

As this review rolls on, a leasing pause gives folks in the oil and gas industry a lot of uncertainty,” Tester said. “It’s getting harder and harder to extend that trust without hard information in the review.”

Tester asked Haaland when the review will “be ready for prime time.”

Officials have “said all along early summer … so my guess is they’ll be getting it sometime in the near future,” Haaland said.

“I’m taking that as it’ll be out in the next month,” Tester replied. Haaland did not commit to a firm timetable.

The back-and-forth over the leasing pause and the court decision showed the stakes of Biden’s effort to reform — and likely scale back — the multibillion-dollar leasing program without crushing a significant sector of the U.S. economy.

Doughty’s ruling, in a lawsuit filed by Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states, is a blow to Biden’s efforts to transition the nation away from fossil fuels and stave off the worst effects of climate change, including catastrophic droughts, floods and wildfires.

Biden and Haaland have said the leasing ban is only temporary, though officials have declined to say how long it will last. And it’s unclear how much legal authority the government has to stop drilling on about 23 million acres (93,000 square kilometers) previously leased to energy companies.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the judge’s decision “a victory for the rule of law and American energy workers.”

Biden’s “illegal ban (on new lease sales) has hurt workers and deprived Wyoming and other states of a principal source of revenue that they use for public education,” Barrasso said. “President Biden should immediately rescind his punishing ban and let Americans get back to work.”

Following Biden’s Jan. 27 order, the Interior Department canceled oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June — affecting Nevada, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, as well as offshore sales in the Gulf of Mexico. The department also abandoned a public comment period for a planned offshore sale in Alaska.

The 13 states that sued said that the administration bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays can be undertaken and said that the moratorium would cost the states money and jobs.

Doughty, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017, said “millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake” for local governments and other public uses.

This is an Associated Press report.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

State senators meet with members of the media at the Alaska State Capitol to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Nanibaa’ Frommherz, a student at Thunder Mountain High School, testifies about a proposal to help the Juneau School District with its financial crisis during a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night at City Hall. The meeting was moved from the Assembly Chambers to a conference room toward the end due to technical errors that disrupted the live online feed.
Little public reaction to city’s bailout of school district this year, but big questions beyond loom

Only two people testify Monday about proposed $4.1M loan and taking over $3.9 in “shared costs.”

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mauka Grunenberg looks at live oysters for sale on Aug. 29, 2022, at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage. The oysters came from a farm in Juneau. Oysters, blue mussels and sugar, bull and ribbon kelp are the main products of an Alaska mariculture industry that has expanded greatly in recent years. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s mariculture industry expands, with big production increases in recent years, report says

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed… Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (center) walks with Alaska Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, and Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, into the Alaska House of Representatives chambers ahead of her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

Congresswoman says wins for Alaska’s fisheries and state’s economy occurring through collaboration.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of Senate concurrence on a version of an education bill passed by the Alaska House last week during a Senate floor discussion on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

Dunleavy schedules press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation.

A photo by Ben Huff being exhibited as part of his presentation at 6:30 p.m. at the Alaska State Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Museum)
Here’s what’s happening for First Friday in March

Both the state and city museums are celebrating 20 years of artistic… Continue reading

Goose Creek Correctional Center is seen in fall. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Corrections)
Alaska prison failed to provide adequate dental care to inmates, state investigator finds

Goose Creek Correctional Center has gone years without a hygienist, forcing patients to wait

Most Read