SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Wednesday he is "disappointed" in President Biden's decision to pause new gas and oil leases, a reversal of policy under the Trump administration.
The suspension, part of a broad review of programs at the Department of Interior, went into effect immediately under an order signed by Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega. It follows 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 administration's announcement drew outrage from Cox and other Republicans. They said limiting access to publicly owned energy resources would mean more foreign oil imports, lost jobs and fewer tax revenues.
“Unity in our nation can only be reached when we work together to solve complex challenges. I’m disappointed in President Biden’s decision to indefinitely pause all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands," said Cox in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "His action was taken without coordination with the state to determine how his decision would impact rural Utah and those that live there."
The order did not ban new drilling outright. It includes an exception giving a small number of senior Interior officials - the secretary, deputy secretary, solicitor and several assistant secretaries - authority to approve actions that otherwise would be suspended.
The order also applies to coal leases and permits, and blocks the approval of new mining plans. Land sales and exchanges and the hiring of senior-level staff at the agency also were suspended.
The Interior Department order did not limit existing oil and gas operations under valid leases, meaning 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. Its effect could be further blunted by companies that stockpiled enough drilling permits in Trump's final months to allow them to keep pumping oil and gas for years.
"While the President’s order does not suspend existing leases, a long-term pause and its accompanying hold on new energy development harms future production and investment statewide," said Cox. "Two-thirds of our lands are public lands managed by the federal government. As with last week's moratorium on mining and energy development, today's order curtails future investment in Utah, weakens rural Utah’s economy and keeps many Utahns from being able to provide for their families."
Oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters account for about a quarter of annual U.S. production. Extracting and burning those fuels generates the equivalent of almost 550 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a 2018 study.