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Utah Republican leaders jointly denounce Biden move to halt energy leases on federal lands

Kinder Morgan compression station, photographed on Ravola Dugway Road, near Upalco, in Duchesne County on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — President Joe Biden's administration announced Thursday there will be a 60-day suspension of oil and gas permitting on federal lands and waters, a move praised by environmentalists but derided by oil and gas companies and by many Republicans, including Utah's state and congressional leadership.

In a joint statement released Thursday night, state leaders denounced the temporary ban and called it a "serious mistake that will harm the same small Utah businesses that are already hurting from the pandemic."

"This action perpetuates the very discord between rural and urban Americans that the President spoke out against in his inauguration speech," the statement says in part, echoing Republican accusations that Biden is only paying lip service to the idea of unity. "Although it is routine for an incoming administration to pause high-level agency decisions while agency leaders get into place, such a widespread suspension of routine permitting decisions normally made in the field is unprecedented."

Many advocacy groups cheered the decision, though.

"For four years, the Trump administration cut legal corners and rushed through massive drilling and mining projects at the behest of corporations," said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities. "Now the Biden administration is rightfully attempting to take stock of the damage and make sure the agency is following the law, instead of rubber-stamping destructive projects that were in the pipeline."

But Utah leaders argued the move "couldn't come at a worse time for Utah's rural communities, tribes, and small businesses."

"Our energy industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Utahns previously employed in the energy sector have lost their jobs in historic numbers. This decision only exacerbates the problem.

"We encourage President Biden to reconsider this counterproductive step. We are eager to work with his administration to improve management of our public lands, but gratuitously punishing our rural economy is not helpful."

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The joint statement was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox; Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson; Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney; Reps. John Curtis, Blake Moore, Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart; Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton; House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville; and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

Industry groups weighed in on Biden's decision as well. In a statement, Utah Petroleum Association President Rikki Hrenko-Browning said the move was "likely well-intentioned given President Biden's campaign promises."

"But what it does in reality is negatively impact local economies all across the West including Utah, infringes on Native American sovereignty and self-determination, and works against the Biden Administration's goal of combating climate change," the statement read.

The Center for Western Priorities said the move does not impact existing operations, "and oil companies are sitting on more than 12 million acres of idle leases and more than 5,600 approved, but unused, drilling permits."

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Graham Dudley reports on politics, breaking news and more for A native Texan, Graham's work has previously appeared in the Brownwood (Texas) Bulletin and The Oklahoma Daily.


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