Environmentalists sue feds to block oil, gas lease sales

8/25/2016
Rebecca Moss

A Santa Fe-based environmental group filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration Thursday, seeking a moratorium on all oil and gas lease sales on public land until the completion of an analysis showing how drilling impacts climate change.

WildEarth Guardians and Washington, D.C.-based Physicians for Social Responsibility claim in the suit that nearly 400 drilling leases were sold across 380,000 acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming without any analysis of the environmental or public health effects.

Since President Barack Obama took office in 2008, the suit says, more than 10 million acres have been leased for oil and gas drilling, which the groups say flies in the face of the administration’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

“We cannot continue to blindly commit our public lands to oil and gas exploitation and have a shot at meeting the administration’s climate goals,” Kyle Tisdel, an attorney from the Western Environmental Law Center in Denver who is representing the plaintiffs in the suit, said in a statement.

“The Interior Department is in climate denial,” added Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, a staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians.

In Santa Fe and across the nation, environmental advocates have been protesting oil and gas lease sales, saying fossil fuel drilling is leading to the steady warming of the planet. In April, 200 activists protested a U.S. Bureau of Land Management drilling lease sale in Santa Fe and criticized the bureau again in July when it moved a lease sale to Roswell from Santa Fe. The bureau then postponed the sale, which is now scheduled for Sept. 1 in Roswell.

Energy industry leaders say protesters and the Obama administration, as part of a pledge to world leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Paris last year, are causing harm to the industry.

Earlier this month, the Western Energy Alliance filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of the Interior, claiming actions that deter oil and gas lease sales violate the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires the government to make minerals on federal lands available to the public.

“Through protests and petitions, the Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement is trying to coerce BLM into violating the law by stopping all leasing on federal lands,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, said in a statement. Without quarterly lease sales, she said, the federal government, states and taxpayers lose out on valuable revenue.

“Western Energy Alliance is simply asking the courts to compel BLM to follow decades-old law and hold quarterly lease sales in every oil and natural gas state,” she said.

Still, environmental groups say, the government has a responsibility to analyze the effects of extracting minerals.

“The Obama administration leases a million acres of public lands a year to dirty energy companies but hasn’t bothered to disclose the inevitable climate pollution?” asked Tim Ream, a climate advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “That’s not just immoral, it’s illegal, and we’re going to stop it.”

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