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Biden Administration Temporarily Suspends Authority of Department of the Interior Bureaus and Offices

By Kerry Shapiro and Martin Stratte

On January 20, 2021, President Biden’s first day in office, Acting Secretary of the Interior Scott de la Vega issued Secretarial Order No. 3395 (Order), which temporarily suspends decision-making authority delegated to Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureaus and Offices, such as the Bureau of Land Management. The Order will be in effect for at least 60 days.

According to the DOI website, the Order, while in effect, reserves decision-making authority for “Department leadership” described in the Order as “confirmed or Acting official[s]” who hold certain positions enumerated in the Order. The positions to which decision-making authority is reserved include the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Solicitor, and six Assistant Secretaries identified in the Order.

Thus, the Order suspends the decision-making authority of DOI Bureaus and Offices, and restricts such authority to a select few high-level DOI officials who have been or will be put in place by the Biden Administration, until after the Administration has had at least 60 days to appoint new, and evaluate existing, officials within DOI Bureaus and Offices.

The suspension of decision-making authority precludes DOI Bureaus and Offices from taking the following actions while the Order is in effect:

  1. To publish, cause to be published, or aid in the publication of any notice in the Federal Register, including, but not limited to, notices of proposed or final agency action and actions taken in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act;
  2. To issue, revise, or amend Resource Management Plans under the authority of Section 202 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act as amended;
  3. To grant rights of way, easements, or any conveyances of property or interests in property, including land sales or exchanges, or any notices to proceed under previous surface use authorizations that will authorize ground-disturbing activities;
  4. To approve plans of operation, or to amend existing plans of operation under the General Mining Law of 1872;
  5. To issue any final decision with respect to R.S. 2477 claims, including recordable disclaimers of interest;
  6. To appoint, hire, or promote personnel, or approve the appointment of any personnel, assigned to a position at or above the level of GS 13, but this does not apply to seasonal hires or emergency work force personnel; and
  7. To issue any onshore or offshore fossil fuel authorization, including but not limited to a lease, amendment to a lease, affirmative extension of a lease, contract, or other agreement, or permit to drill. This does not limit existing operations under valid leases. It also does not apply to authorizations necessary to: (1) avoid conditions that might pose a threat to human health, welfare, or safety; or (2) to avoid adverse impacts to public land or mineral resources.

According to the DOI website, “The Order does not impact existing ongoing operations under valid leases and does not preclude the issuance of leases, permits and other authorizations by those [confirmed or Acting officials] specified.”

A copy of the Order is available here.

Kerry Shapiro
Kerry Shapiro chairs the Natural Resources & Mining Practice Group at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. He has represented the mining, construction and building materials industries on mineral extraction and land development projects for more than 25 years. Kerry also serves as General Counsel to the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association (CalCIMA). Contact Kerry at KShapiro@jmbm.com.

Martin Stratte
Martin Stratte is a land use and environmental attorney at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. He assists with the entitlement of complex projects throughout California in accordance with CEQA, NEPA, and California’s greenhouse gas emission and climate change regulations. He also represents clients in related litigation. Contact Martin at MStratte@jmbm.com.

JMBM’s Natural Resources & Mining Law Group
Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP has one of California’s leading natural resources and mining law practice groups. The group is comprised of lawyers with over 25 years of practice in law firms, government, and consulting, and provides companies and trade associations with unparalleled counseling, compliance, and litigation services in nearly every area of federal and California natural resources and mining law.