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Wyoming files second lawsuit against feds over canceled oil and gas leasing 

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Stephanie Joyce

The state of Wyoming is challenging the federal government over canceled oil and gas lease sales, making it the second lawsuit over the matter.

Governor Mark Gordon announced the lawsuit Thursday, which is challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision, via the Department of Interior, to pause oil and gas lease sales on public land. Typically they happen quarterly, however, all but one sale was paused since President Biden took office. His administration cited environmental concerns as a main reason.

The state filed its first lawsuit almost two years ago over the decision to cancel the first quarter sale of 2021. This year, U.S. District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl of Wyoming upheld that decision.

“...postponing the first quarter 2021 lease sales was done to ensure NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) compliance with several then-recent federal court opinions that negated previously authorized oil and gas lease sales,” Skavdahl wrote in his decision.

Now, the state argues that that ruling does not extend to the cancellation of three other lease sales – the second and third quarters of 2021 and the third quarter of 2022. These sales are at the crux of the current lawsuit.

“After careful analysis, it is the State’s opinion that the Secretary of Interior does not have the same justification it provided for missing subsequent lease sales,” according a press release from Gordon’s office.

Gordon added that he believes the pausing of lease sales was politically driven, rather than based on law or fact.

“This litigation is timely and vital to the interests of Wyoming citizens. Beyond that, Wyoming’s energy resources can help power the nation and bring down costs at the pump,” Gordon said. “BLM’s decision to cancel lease sales sure seems to be a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the law.”

But, some environmentalists say oil and gas leasing must end in order to meet world climate goals and avert the most drastic effect of climate change.

"As we do the important work to move away from oil, the first thing we need to do is to stop looking for new oil," Dan Ritzman, Sierra Club's director of the Lands, Water and Wildlife campaign, said in a WPM interview earlier this summer.

At least one oil and gas lease sale will take place next year. The federal government announced that about 250,000 acres of Wyoming public land will be offered in response to requirements under the Inflation Reduction Act.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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