By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said on Wednesday her department was reviewing a federal court’s decision that it must resume auctioning oil and gas leases on federal acreage but did not say when those auctions might restart.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden had suspended drilling lease auctions in January to review the program’s environmental costs, a move widely seen as a first step to delivering on Biden’s campaign promise to end new federal drilling to fight climate change.
But a federal judge in Louisiana on Tuesday ordered an end to the pause after Louisiana and 12 other states that support drilling on federal lands sued, arguing the suspension was against the law and would cause economic damage and kill jobs.
“Our department is reviewing the judge’s opinion as we speak and consulting with the Justice Department,” said Haaland, who was testifying before a Senate subcommittee about the Interior Department’s budget.
“We will respect the judge’s decision. Any other information will be forthcoming,” she said.
The top Republican on the committee, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, told Haaland in her opening remarks she wanted to hear the secretary’s “plans to resume implementation of those lease sales.”
Haaland did not offer any details on the potential timing of a resumption.
Around a quarter of the nation’s oil and gas is produced from federal lands and waters.
Haaland reiterated that her department is still planning to release a comprehensive review of the country’s oil and gas leasing program by late summer and did not say whether the court ruling would delay the report.
White House climate change adviser Gina McCarthy on Wednesday said on Twitter that the review is long overdue since companies pay low royalty rates for federal oil leases.
“The decades-old rules governing @Interior’s oil and gas program fail to secure value for taxpayers, protect our communities and workers, or account for the changing climate. This is simply unsustainable,” she wrote.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici;Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Chris Reese and Lisa Shumaker)