Moving to protect climate and health, a coalition today filed suit to overturn the sale of nearly 2 million acres of public lands for fracking in the western states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
“The Trump administration is selling out America’s public lands to the oil and gas industry and fueling the climate crisis,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program director for WildEarth Guardians. “With this lawsuit, we’re taking a stand against this administration’s exploitation of public lands and abject climate denial.”
Filed in federal court by WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center, the suit targets the Trump administration’s failure to address the climate consequences of leasing public lands to the oil and gas industry for drilling and extraction.
“Fracking leaks huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere, heating the climate and fueling massive health threats: deadly wildfires, flooding, damage to agriculture, and more,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Director for Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We need to move beyond fossil fuels, and that means we need to stop leasing public lands for oil and gas extraction.”
The suit comes on the heels of a court win by the groups in March 2019 in a virtually identical legal challenge. That case, filed in 2016, targeted the sale of more than 450,000 acres for fracking in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras chided the U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management for failing to account for the cumulative impacts of leasing public lands regionally and nationally.
“We won in court once and we’ll win again,” said Shiloh Hernandez, staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Trump administration is completely flouting the law and the courts. We simply can’t let this continue.”
Since taking office, the Trump administration has ramped up oil and gas leasing on public lands under an “energy dominance” agenda.
To accelerate the sale of leases, the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management have rolled back environmental safeguards, streamlined environmental reviews, and eliminated public involvement.
The administration has also taken extreme steps to deny and defy climate science. As noted by the groups in today’s lawsuit, the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management have downplayed the climate consequences of authorizing more fossil fuel production on public lands.
“The Trump administration is denying reality to appease its friends in the oil and gas industry,” said Becca Fischer, Climate and Energy Program attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “The thing is, climate denial is illegal. Under federal law, this administration can’t ignore or downplay science and facts.”
Today’s lawsuit, which targets oil and gas leasing approved between late 2016 and 2019, comes as science increasingly supports winding down and ultimately phasing out fossil fuel production as a key strategy to confronting the climate crisis.
A 2018 U.S. Geological Survey report found that oil and gas produced from public lands and waters contributes to 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. And a 2018 report by the Stockholm Environmental Institute confirmed that ending public lands fossil fuel production could significantly reduce nationwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Ending the sale of public lands for fracking would also yield enormous health benefits. Besides impacting the climate, the fracking science compendium released in June 2019 by Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York confirmed extensive health risks associated with oil and gas extraction, including cancer, asthma, pre-term birth, and more.
The groups’ lawsuit also comes as the Trump administration this week announced proposed rollbacks to federal environmental reviews that would exempt agencies from having to address climate impacts.
“This case isn’t just about defending our climate and public lands,” said Daniel Timmons, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “It’s about defending the law, which requires the federal government to account for and address the full environmental impacts of its actions, and that includes climate impacts.”