News / Utah / 
Oil drilling in the Uina Basin near Vernal. Utah joined
a dozen other states in a lawsuit against the federal government
challenging the Jan. 27 executive order to ban any new oil and gas
leasing on federal land.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Utah joins a dozen other states suing Biden over oil and gas leasing ban

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News | Posted - Mar. 24, 2021 at 5:12 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah joined a dozen other states Wednesday in a lawsuit against the federal government challenging the Jan. 27 executive order issued by President Joe Biden to ban any new oil and gas leasing on federal land and offshore waters.

The suit led by Louisiana challenges the executive order on the grounds that it violates mandatory provisions of a pair of federal laws requiring lease sales be held to further oil and gas development in the United States.

"The Biden administration's unlawful moratorium on federal land leasing threatens Utah's oil and gas industry," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said. "Not only does the industry add billions of dollars to Utah's economy each year, it also supports over 32,000 jobs in Utah. Revenue from oil and gas leases and royalties help fund schools and local governments, as well as health, safety and environmental projects across the State. Without any explanation, President Biden's order stops leases in violation of federal law."

Biden's executive order, the suit asserts, is in "flagrant disregard" of the Interior Department's nondiscretionary statutory duties when it comes to provisions of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and Mineral Leasing Act, which establish timelines for the development of oil and natural gas resources on federal public lands and waters.

"Those leases do more than allow America to reach its full energy-production potential—they provide significant environmental benefits because portions of the lease proceeds are invested into vital state environmental defense and restoration projects," the suit reads.

In fact, the suit blasts the Biden administration for the ecological consequences that will result from the action.

"Executive Order 14008 glistens with irony. It purports to protect the environment, but it constitutes what is likely the single-largest divestment of revenue for environmental protection projects in American history."

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Challengers to the ban point out that each year, the federal government returns billions of dollars to the states for environmental reclamation projects that are funded with proceeds from federal oil and gas leases.

The lawsuit details the economic harm Utah will suffer, including: $58.6 million it gets from federal leases. $124.4 million in natural resources property taxes assessed by counties. $33.2 million in severance taxes. $3.7 million in oil and gas conservation fees.

The lawsuit contends that not only does the ban knock federal lands out of new oil and gas investment by industry, but it spills over to significant and consequential impacts to private and state trust lands.

"A moratorium on federal leasing discourages investment from oil and gas companies in leasing or developing state sections when the companies cannot also lease the federal land surrounding the state acreage. Accordingly, lost investment in federal leases results in lost investment in state leases, depriving Utah and Utah schools of state mineral leasing, production and tax revenues," it reads.

The states' litigation follows lawsuits launched by the oil and gas industry earlier this year and widespread praise from environmental and conservation groups who say reforms are long overdue.

BIden's Interior Department is hosting a briefing on the moratorium on Thursday.

Other states in the lawsuit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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