WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden won temporary permission to once again pause energy leasing on federal lands and waters, after a U.S. appeals court found a trial judge’s order against the moratorium too vague to review.
The court on Wednesday threw out the judge’s nationwide injunction forcing a restart of the leasing from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska and ordered the judge to revisit the issue. In the meantime, Biden’s pause stands.
It isn’t clear what immediate effect the ruling will have. Under the just-enacted Inflation Reduction Act, which provides hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change, the Interior Department is required to hold two auctions of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
The law also makes future renewable energy projects on federal lands and waters contingent on the leasing. The government can issue new wind and solar rights only if it has recently sold new drilling rights too — a requirement designed to spur more fossil fuel leasing despite Biden’s campaign pledge to stop permitting such projects on public lands.
The ruling came in a dispute between the administration and 13 energy-producing states that sued to force Biden to resume the leasing he paused a week after taking office. After the lower court last year issued its preliminary injunction against the leasing moratorium, the government appealed.
“We cannot reach the merits of the government’s challenge when we cannot ascertain from the record what conduct — an unwritten agency policy, a written policy outside the executive order, or the executive order itself — is enjoined,” the appeals court wrote.
Representatives of the Interior Department and the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s ruling.