Alaska joins 12 other states to sue to undo Biden pause on US oil & gas lease sales

An oil rig in the water in the distancee
An oil rig in Cook Inlet, Feb. 22, 2009. (Creative Commons photo by hig314)

Alaska is among the 13 states that sued the Biden administration Wednesday to end a suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water and to reschedule canceled sales of offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska waters and western states.

The Republican-leaning states, led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, seek a court order ending the moratorium imposed after Democratic President Joe Biden signed executive orders on climate change on Jan. 27.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office issued a statement Wednesday saying the president “has made no secret that his administration’s agenda is to halt all new oil and gas leasing on federal onshore and offshore lands.”

“We fear that President Biden’s attack on federal oil and gas leasing has only begun, and the State must be involved to protect the interests of all Alaskans in the responsible development of the bountiful natural resources contained within Alaska,” said Dunleavy, in the statement.

The new lawsuit specifically seeks an order that the government go ahead with a sale of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico that had been scheduled for March 17 until it was canceled; and a lease sale that had been planned for this year in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

RELATED: Biden suspends new leases for oil and gas development on federal lands, including in Alaska

The suit calls for other suspended lease sales to go forward. Sales also have been postponed for federal lands in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Biden and multiple federal agencies bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays can be undertaken, the states claim in the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in the federal court’s Western District of Louisiana.

The Department of the Interior declined immediate comment.

RELATED: Biden administration hits pause on Cook Inlet oil lease sales

The lawsuit notes that coastal states receive significant revenue from onshore and offshore oil and gas activity. Stopping leases, the lawsuit argues, would diminish revenue that pays for Louisiana efforts to restore coastal wetlands, raise energy costs and lead to major job losses in oil producing states.

Although Landry and the lawsuit’s supporters said the moratorium has already driven up prices and endangered energy jobs, Biden’s suspension doesn’t stop companies from drilling on existing leases. But a long-term halt to oil and gas sales would curb future production and could hurt states like Louisiana and Alaska that are heavily dependent on the industry.

The Dunleavy administration said in Wednesday’s statement that Alaska is a top producer of oil and gas in the U.S.

“As the Biden administration considers policies that would move Alaska away from more carbon intensive energy sources – Alaskan production should be favored to meet demand that is likely to continue for decades,” the statement said.

Biden’s team has argued that companies still have plenty of undeveloped leases to work on — almost 14 million acres in western states and more than 9 million acres offshore. Companies also have about 7,700 unused drilling permits — enough for years.

Administration officials have declined to say how long the pause on lease sales will last.

Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia are the other plaintiff states.

Wyoming filed a separate but similar lawsuit on Wednesday.

The Interior Department is hosting a livestreamed forum on the leasing program Thursday as it considers changes that could affect future sales and how much companies pay for oil and gas they extract. A report outlining initial findings and the next steps in the review is due this summer.

Associated Press reporters Matthew Daly in Washington and Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report. Alaska Public Media also contributed to this report.

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