Judge to Biden: Drill, baby, drill -- and obey the law

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

That didn’t take long. Less than 24 hours after Joe Biden and his team celebrated a win at the Fifth Circuit, Judge Terry Doughty popped all the balloons. Will Biden take this chance for a new approach on energy? Naah, but that’s what makes this worth noting:

In the Thursday ruling, Judge Terry Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana, a Trump appointee, permanently blocked the January 2021 order in 13 states that sued over the order last March. The states in question are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. It does not apply to any states uninvolved in the lawsuit.

In his ruling, Doughty ruled the order in violation of the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), saying it took steps reserved for Congress.

“Both statutes require Government Defendants’ agencies to sell oil and gas leases. The OCSLA has a Five-Year Plan in effect that requires eligible leases to be sold. Government Defendants’ agencies have no authority to make significant revisions in the OCSLA Five-Year Plan without going through the procedure mandated by Congress,” Doughty wrote.

“The MLA requires the [Interior Department] to hold lease sales, where eligible lands are available at lease quarterly. By stopping the process, the agencies are in effect amending two Congressional statutes. Neither the OCSLA nor the MLA gives the Government Defendants’ agencies the authority to implement a Stop of lease sales,” he added.

The day before, the White House thought it had won a round at the appellate circuit, which vacated Doughty’s earlier injunction. That didn’t last long:

A judge’s order that forced the Biden administration to resume sales of oil and gas leases on federal land and waters was rejected Wednesday by a federal appeals court in New Orleans.

It was at least a temporary victory for President Joe Biden but the immediate effect was unclear.

It was at most a temporary victory. Doughty apparently just fleshed out the injunction far enough to satisfy the appellate court’s concerns over his ruling.

Of course, the White House can appeal this injunction as well. Will they? Almost certainly, as Biden simply can’t take a hint or quit while he’s only reasonably behind. One does have to wonder why he’d bother, however, as Biden was forced to agree to much of the same kind of permitting and extraction in the compromise Chuck Schumer made with Joe Manchin. The Courier explains how the concessions to Manchin largely overlap the same kind of activities that Biden attempted to block with his executive orders:

The practical impacts of the ruling could be minor because of the fossil fuel leasing mandates in the climate law, said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents oil and gas service companies.

The law requires the government to reinstate $192 million in leases in the Gulf of Mexico that were blocked by another court ruling last year. And it requires two more sales in the Gulf and one in Alaska before October 2023. Those sales had been canceled under Biden. The provision reviving them was inserted into the law at the insistence of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, an advocate for fossil fuels.

Going forward the law says Interior will hold periodic oil and gas lease sales and offer at least 60 million acres of offshore parcels and 2 million acres onshore during the prior year before it can approve any renewable energy leases.

Biden got pushed into the correct policy by Manchin. In a sane world, Biden might similarly welcome this ruling as a way to fully reset his energy prices. Gas prices jumped 108% in sixteen months thanks to his EO 13990-driven energy policies before gliding back to a 65% increase two months later, all still within the first two years of his presidency. That became the largest driver of rapid-escalation inflation, an economic morass that threatens to bury Biden’s party under a red wave in November.

What Biden needs is a handy excuse to start unwinding his Green New Deal agenda. A court ruling such as the one delivered by Judge Terry Doughty — himself under a direct order from the appellate court to apply the law as written — would provide the opening for Biden to recalculate his policies based on economic and scientific reality, not to mention the law.

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