Judge blocks Biden bid to restrict offshore oil and gas lease sale

 September 24, 2023

In yet another blow to the Biden administration's crusade against American energy independence, a federal judge last week struck down a bid to impose eleventh-hour restrictions on a planned sale of offshore oil and gas leases, as Fox News reports.

Granting a preliminary injunction requested by the State of Louisiana, the American Petroleum Institute (API), as well as Chevron and Shell, the move by Judge James Cain has earned praise from conservative commentators, including Quin Hillyer of the Washington Examiner.

Judge blocks Biden

At issue were restrictions placed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Lease Sale 261, encompassing millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico and set to take place next week.

As Hillyer points out in an op-ed heralding the ruling, the sale itself had already been approved by the agency, but also by Congress itself via the Inflation Reduction Act, the terms of which explicitly required that the sale be carried out as originally planned.

However, owing to a settlement BOEM reached in July with environmental advocacy groups, approximately six million acres were excluded from the sale, and a number of other restrictions on vessels linked to the leases were imposed with the stated purpose of protecting a particular whale species inhabiting the area.

Cain, however, held that the federal government must now move forward with the lease sale under the original terms and conditions, doing so no later than Sept. 30, marking a significant loss for the administration.

Cain explains

In his decision reinstating the sale terms, Cain wrote, “The court observes that plaintiffs have demonstrated substantial potential costs resulting from the challenged provisions.”

“While the government defendants largely focus on the acreage withdrawal and dynamics of the sale itself, many of plaintiffs' alleged hardships arise from the vessel restrictions,” he continued.

The judge went on, “Industry plaintiffs have shown a likelihood that these will burden their operations on current and planned leases. The resulting costs would not be undone by the court's entry of a permanent injunction and order of another sale.”

In a biting assessment of the administration's possible motives, Cain said that the administration's conduct looked like an attempt “to provide scientific justification to a political reassessment of offshore drilling” and “more like a weaponization of the Endangered Species Act than the collaborative, reasoned approach prescribed by the applicable laws and regulations.”

Reactions pour in

Unsurprisingly, the plaintiffs in the case were extremely satisfied with Cain's decision, with Ryan Meyers, senior vice president and general counsel at API stating, “We are pleased that the court has hit the brakes on the Biden administration's ill-conceived effort to restrict American development of reliable, lower-carbon energy in the Gulf of Mexico.”

“This decision is an important step toward greater certainty for American energy workers, a more robust Gulf Coast economy, and a stronger future for U.S. energy security,” Meyers added.

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association also lauded the reversal of the Biden administration's actions, saying, “The removal of millions of highly prospective acres and the imposition of excessive restrictions stemmed from a voluntary agreement with activist groups that circumvented the law, ignored science, and bypassed public input.”

With high gas prices and energy sector job losses being the obvious fallout of Biden's anti-oil policies taking a continued toll on the economy – and therefore his approval rating, Hillyer suggests, it would make sense for the president to ease up on the strategy. However, he opines, “radical ideology such as this doesn't listen to reason,” and that is something all Americans should keep in mind as the 2024 presidential battle proceeds.