Dismissal Briefing Concludes in Oil Leasing Lawsuit Filed by States Against Biden Administration

The United States countered arguments made by a coalition of states in a dispute over a decision to “pause” the issuance of new oil and gas leases made by executive order. The Western District of Louisiana court presiding over the matter previously granted the states’ motion for a preliminary injunction based on their Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claims for deficient adherence to rulemaking procedure.

The reply brief in support of dismissal was filed late last week against the thirteen plaintiff states. It reiterated arguments that the states’ causes of action fail as a matter of law. Specifically, the federal defendants contended that the plaintiffs’ claims are premature and speculative, based on actions that the Department of Interior (DOI) might take on oil and gas leases. 

Too, the defendants asserted that by hastily contesting the presidential order, the plaintiffs ignored his authority to direct executive officers as well as a statutory notification requirement. The plaintiffs instead instructed the court to avoid these inconvenient facts, the reply brief said.

The filing also paid particular heed to two counts, one based on the citizen suit provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OSCLA), and the other on the doctrine of ultra vires against the president himself. According to the brief, the OSCLA claim fails because the harms are not sufficiently immediate to waive the 60-day notice requirement. Among other arguments, the filing explained that disbursed funds from federal to state governments from new leases will not commence until next year, thus any prospective harm is remote in time.

The ultra vires or exercise of authority in excess of legal right claim allegedly fails because the executive order at issue is not self-executing, requires that the DOI secretary implement its directives, and has stated limits. The defendants contended that these features exempt the claim from ultra vires scrutiny.

The reply also noted that the preliminary injunction granted by the court does not create law of the case as to the APA claims the court’s decision rested on. Those, the defendants reiterated, fail to allege justiciable claims as the states challenge non-final, interlocutory actions rather than discrete, final agency decisions ripe for review.