Fredericksburg, Va. – January 27, 2010   The decision on the part of the Interior Department to delay administrative action on a scheduled and critically important lease sale more than 50 miles off the state of Virginia may not be consistent with the orders of a federal court, the Southeast Energy Alliance charged today.

“The decision by the Department of the Interior is contrary to the expressed wishes of the state of Virginia and appears to violate an order from the US Court of Appeals,” said Michael Whatley, executive director of the Southeast Energy Alliance and former staff director and chief counsel for the U.S. Senate subcommittee on clean air and climate change. “We are deeply concerned about the Department’s decision to take this lease sale off the table — despite strong public support, and clear instructions from a federal court.”

The 2011 Virginia lease sale was included in the 2007-2012 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program published by the Department in 2007 following a three-year development process. The 2007-2012 Program has been the subject of lawsuits regarding the environmental sensitivity rankings used by the Department in developing the program. However, on July 28, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals issued a clarification order that limited any changes to the program arising from the litigation to leasing areas in Alaska.

“The Virginia lease sale was included in the Five Year Program at the request of Virginia following years of careful, thorough consideration by the Department of the Interior,” added Whatley. “Public support for the lease sale is extraordinarily strong and Governor McDonnell has stated that he wants to see the lease sale take place in 2011.” Whatley also pointed to a statement posted today on the website of U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), indicating that both Sens. Webb and Mark Warner (D-Va.) support prompt action on the Virginia lease sale.

The Interior Department’s revisions to the 2007-2012 Program are taking place solely because of the ongoing litigation over its Alaskan provisions, and the federal Court of Appeals has ruled that any changes to the plan during the Department’s reconsideration of the Program must be limited to Alaska. “For the Department to strip it out of the schedule under these circumstances is a direct hit on the families, farms, factories and businesses of Virginia,” Whatley concluded.

SEA is the Southeastern regional affiliate of the Consumer Energy Alliance.