Utah delegation, officials urge Biden to reconsider suspension of energy leases on federal lands

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah political leaders and lawmakers are criticizing President Joe Biden’s move to halt energy leases on federal lands.

In a joint statement from Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, Reps. John Curtis, Blake Moore, Chris Stewart, and Burgess Owens, Senate President Stuart Adams, House Speaker Brad Wilson, and Attorney General Sean Reyes call the action a “serious mistake.”

Read the full statement below:

“The Biden administration’s arbitrary decision to suspend oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal lands is a serious mistake that will harm the same small Utah businesses that are already hurting from the pandemic. This action perpetuates the very discord between rural and urban Americans that the President spoke out against in his inauguration speech. Although it is routine for an incoming administration to pause high-level agency decisions while agency leaders get into place, such a widespread suspension of routine permitting decisions normally made in the field is unprecedented.

“The economic impacts of this decision will be felt nation-wide and couldn’t come at a worse time for Utah’s rural communities, tribes, and small businesses. Our energy industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Utahns previously employed in the energy sector have lost their jobs in historic numbers. This decision only exacerbates the problem.

“We encourage President Biden to reconsider this counterproductive step. We are eager to work with his administration to improve management of our public lands, but gratuitously punishing our rural economy is not helpful.”

On Thursday, the Biden administration announced the suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits for U.S. lands and waters for 60 days. According to the Associated Press, this is part of a broad review of programs at the Department of Interior.

It also follows President Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new drilling on federal lands and end the leasing of publicly owned energy reserves as part of his plan to address climate change. The order does not limit existing oil and gas operations under valid leases, meaning oil and gas activity won’t come to a sudden halt on the millions of acres of lands in the West and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico where much drilling is concentrated.

The order also blocks the approval of new mining plans, land sales or exchanges and the hiring of senior-level staff at the agency.

This isn’t the first move by the Biden administration that Utah lawmakers have criticized.

On Wednesday, in his first few hours in office, President Biden signed an executive order to review the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments.

Read that joint statement below:

“For over 25 years, Utah has been the center of controversial and divisive unilateral national monument decisions. Roughly two-thirds of our backyard belongs to the federal government, which has meant land management actions have often been done to us rather than with us. A review in name only with predetermined results, which ultimately leads to a unilateral executive order enlarging the monuments’ boundaries, will not solve the root of the problem and will only deepen divisions in this country.

We share a sincere desire to find a collaborative, broadly supported solution to the political football of national monuments in Utah, specifically Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. It is imperative that President Biden bring the State of Utah to the table and work with state and local elected leaders toward a consensus product, including a permanent solution approved by Congress.

President Biden championed a message of unity during his campaign, and we stand ready to work across party lines towards a permanent solution.”

Two years ago, President Donald Trump downsized the two monuments, and then last year implemented a new management plan.

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