Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
Greg Nash

A Democratic senator pressed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on the Biden administration’s review of its oil and gas program on Wednesday following a court ruling that blocked its pause on new leasing. 

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) raised concerns about the pause’s impacts on industry while also trying to get information on when the administration would wrap up its ongoing assessment of its oil and gas program.

“We’ve got more acres leased than we have developed, which tells me that even if you support oil and gas jobs, which I believe we do, there’s some improvements that could be made, but as this review rolls on, a leasing pause gives folks that work in the oil and gas industry a lot of uncertainty,” he said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. 

“It’s getting harder and harder to extend that trust without hard information,” he added. “Namely, when are we going to see the review? What’s it going to cover? Are there going to be any concrete policy recommendations for Congress to consider?”

In response, Haaland said, “We have said all along early summer.”

“I’m taking that as it’ll be out in the next month, OK?” Tester said. 

“Thank you, senator,” Haaland replied. 

Asked about Haaland’s responses to his questions after the hearing, Tester said, “We’ll just have to hold her accountable that it comes out in the next month.”

Late on Tuesday, a federal judge in Louisiana placed a temporary injunction on the leasing pause. This action didn’t make a final determination on the pause’s legality but rather put it on hold while a court challenge from more than a dozen Republican-led states plays out. 

The Biden administration put the pause in place while it reviews and reconsiders its current leasing and permitting practices for oil and gas drilling on public lands. 

The pause did not have a specified end date but was slated to last through at least the end of the month.

A spokesperson for the department has said that it will “review” the opinion and “comply with the decision,” adding that it will continue to work on an interim report that will “include initial findings on the state of the federal conventional energy programs, as well as outline next steps and recommendations for the Department and Congress.”

Following the ruling, Republican lawmakers urged the administration to resume selling drilling leases. 

“In light of this very important ruling, I expect today to hear your plans to resume implementation of those lease sales. As we were reminded yesterday, it is the secretary’s job to execute the laws as they were written, not as one wishes they were,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) after specifically discussing leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Meanwhile, some Democrats said that it highlighted the need to put strict restrictions on federal oil and gas leasing, with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) raising climate concerns during the hearing. 

Tags Deb Haaland Jeff Merkley Jon Tester leasing Lisa Murkowski oil and gas leasing public lands
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