While President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of the Interior announced on Monday that they will appeal a district court’s preliminary injunction that ended the pause of oil and gas lease sales, environmental advocacy groups in New Mexico expressed disappointment that lease sales will resume during the appeals process.
Biden issued a moratorium on oil and gas lease sales in January and instructed the Interior Department to review the oil and gas lease process.
The state of Louisiana, as well as a dozen other states, sued the administration, citing the importance of oil and gas to their economies. This led to the district court ruling in June which blocked Biden’s administrative suspension of new oil and gas leases.
“Thanks to our broken federal leasing program, oil and gas companies have gotten a free pass to pollute our lakes, rivers and streams, and have not been held accountable for cleaning up their messes,” said Angel Peña, the executive director of Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, in a statement. “It’s disheartening that the Biden Administration is acquiescing to a Louisiana district court by permitting new oil and gas leases on our federally protected lands. We deserve better. In New Mexico, we look forward to fundamental reform and finally holding companies and the industry accountable for profiting off our pristine lands.”
Industry officials in New Mexico have expressed concern that the leasing pause will lead to operations moving from places where the majority of leases are on federal lands to states with less federal mineral rights and less stringent environmental standards.
But, despite the moratorium, New Mexico saw record oil and gas production.
In a press release, Sierra Club Rio Grande Oil and Gas Organizer Miya King-Flaherty said no new leases should occur on public lands, but the organization is encouraged by the Department of the Interior indicating that it will use its statutory discretion in future leasing.
“We hope that includes significant environmental analyses and consultations that should have come before previous lease sales took place,” she said. “The federal oil and gas program inadequately accounts for environmental harms to lands, waters, and other resources and frequently leaves impacted communities out of important conversations. Not to mention that for more than a decade, the Government Accountability Office has labeled the federal oil and gas leasing programs as ‘high risk’ — vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, and in need of transformation.”
During the appeal, the Department of the Interior will proceed with oil and gas leasing in compliance with the district court’s mandate. According to a press release from the department, it will continue reviewing the oil and gas programs’ shortcomings, including completing a report. It will also undertake a programmatic analysis to address changes that may be necessary to meet Biden’s targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
The Department of the Interior stated that the appeal of the preliminary injunction is “important and necessary.”
“Together federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing programs are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions and growing climate and community impacts,” the department stated. “Yet the current programs fail to adequately incorporate consideration of climate impacts into leasing decisions or reflect the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions including, for example, in royalty rates.”
Environmental advocates say it is important to end new oil and gas leasing because of the impacts the emissions have on climate change. But this does not mean an end to oil and gas production in the state as the majority of land in New Mexico is already leased.
“New oil and gas leases must stop,” said Julia Bernal, the director of Pueblo Action Alliance, in a statement. “We are beyond the anticipation of a climate crisis because it is already here.”
Bernal pointed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report that was released earlier this month. The report underscored the need to transition away from fossil fuels.
“The Greater Chaco landscape as well as the Permian Basin have already been subjected to the historical legacy of extractive industries that have greatly contributed to climate change,” she said. “Indigenous peoples are one of the largest groups of people fighting to protect cultural landscapes and cultural resources from exploitation. We must discontinue the leasing program as it exists and work on clean up and remediation.”