BISMARCK — A judge has denied an attempt by North Dakota to force the U.S. government to stage oil lease sales on federal lands, a lawsuit the state filed after President Joe Biden imposed a moratorium on such activity to address climate and environmental concerns.
The order, issued Friday, Jan. 14, by U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor, noted that the U.S. Department of the Interior is already considering reopening leases for oil development on federal lands in North Dakota, effectively granting the relief that the state seeks. in his legal challenge.
The decision comes two days after Traynor, who was appointed to the position by former President Donald Trump, interviewed lawyers from the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office based on their request in light of recovery plans. federal leases, and since a Louisiana judge had already ruled in favor of a group of oil and gas producing states in a similar lawsuit.
North Dakota alleged the Interior Department violated its legal obligations and the Louisiana court order by not holding sales on eligible land last year, while federal attorneys argued that the lease had been put on hold for a review of its compliance with a key environmental law — a disagreement Traynor said he couldn’t resolve without a fuller factual record.
While the judge said he was denying North Dakota’s request “at this early stage” of the trial, he left the door open for the state to try again if the verdict in the Louisiana case was overturned or if its scope was limited by a call.
Traynor added that if the leaders of the US Department of the Interior “don’t keep their word and cancel any planned future sales,” then North Dakota can bring their case back for review.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a statement that the state appreciates Traynor’s desire for more information, especially given the Department of the Interior’s announced plans to organize at new lease sales in the first two quarters of 2022.
“We are fully prepared to stand up to them in the fire and will not hesitate to take the case to court again should the circumstances warrant it,” Stenehjem said.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the judge’s order Friday afternoon.
Biden halted lease sales on federal lands with an executive order early in his presidency, a move that has been applauded by environmental groups seeking bold action to tackle climate change.
A total of 15 states have sued the Biden administration over its restrictions on federal oil leasing. Many joined a single trial, while North Dakota pursued a solo challenge.
Lease auctions were not held on federal lands in North Dakota for a year after Biden’s inauguration. The state claimed in a first filing that two canceled sales last year cost it $82 million.
The federal Bureau of Land Management, which is overseen by the Department of the Interior, plans to auction more than 6,800 acres in western North Dakota and eastern Montana in the coming months .
Readers can contact Forum reporter Adam Willis, a member of the Report for America corps, at [email protected]