Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said she does not believe that Joe Biden’s administration currently plans a “permanent ban” on new oil and gas leases on public lands, which would undermine one of the president’s campaign pledges.
But the agency is still reviewing the state of the nation’s energy programs, after which it will issue recommendations to Congress and the administration.
Earlier this month, a federal judge blocked the administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases in federal lands and waters, issuing an injunction against the US Department of Interior from “implementing the pause” while the case from Louisiana’s Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and 12 other state attorneys general plays out in court.
The administration is performing a review of the state of oil and gas drilling in the US, which Secretary Haaland said will be due in “early summer”. The Interior Department will then “outline next steps and recommendations” for Congress, according to a statement from the agency.
“Gas and oil production will continue well into the future – we believe that is the reality of our economy and the world we are living in,” she told the House Natural Resources Committee on 23 June. “I don’t think there’s a plan right now for a permanent ban. … The review will come out early summer and we will assess the fossil fuel programs at that time.”
The administration “will abide by any decision we are ordered to” through the courts, she said.
US District Judge Terry Doughty argued that the administration does not have authority to block new leases, which “lies solely” with members of Congress.
During his campaign, Mr Biden vowed to ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters” as part of his energy and environmental justice platform.
Congressional Republicans have also introduced legislation to block the Biden administration from pausing new oil and gas leases, and to require congressional approval before any future suspensions.
In a statement, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones said the president “explicitly promised to halt new fracking on federal lands”.
“It now seems that Biden has no intention of keeping that promise,” he added. “This would be a disastrous capitulation to the fossil fuel industry, and a worrying sign that this White House is not committed to the kinds of actions necessary to stave off climate catastrophe.”
The Independent has requested comment from the Interior Department