The Western Environmental Law Center, Wilderness Workshop, Western Colorado Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club recently won an important victory in Federal District Court. The lawsuit challenged BLM’s 2015 Resource Management Plan (the plan) for the Colorado River Valley Field Office (CRVFO), which would have drastically expanded oil and gas drilling on Colorado’s Western Slope. The plan failed to adequately analyze the climate impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions from downstream oil and gas consumption. The plan also failed to consider any alternative land use in the area that would meaningfully limit oil and gas drilling. Now, the agency will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement to satisfy the groups’ court victory.
“We are in the midst of a climate emergency and it is time for the federal government to account for this reality in its decision-making,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Fossil fuel exploitation on our public lands represent a huge contributor to this crisis. But this also presents a critical opportunity to lower our national emissions while also building our resilience in the face of a warming world.”
“This decision marks an important moment in recognizing the role of fossil fuel extraction on our public lands, and how it’s fueling the climate crisis. Drilling for fossil fuels on federal lands accounts for a quarter of American greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we’re facing a climate crisis,” said Lena Moffitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. “We need public lands to be a part of our climate solution, which means stopping this administration’s reckless agenda to drill in these places.”
“Last year a Federal Court issued a decision agreeing with us on several counts, but the judge told us to hammer out an appropriate remedy with BLM—which took a while,” said Peter Hart, Staff Attorney at Wilderness Workshop. “BLM has now agreed to take a hard look at the impacts of new fossil fuel development on climate, and to consider alternatives that actually close significant portions of our local public lands to oil and gas development. In coming months, there should be meaningful opportunities for the public to engage in a new planning process for local BLM lands that will address deficiencies in the current plan.”
Background on the case:
BLM’s plan left the vast majority of the Field Office open to oil and gas leasing and development, including areas where the agency expects no development to occur. The agency chose to close just 2,500 acres in areas with high occurrence potential for oil and gas. The plan created a presumption that oil and gas can and should be the dominant use, even in places where other incompatible values exist and areas where BLM has concluded that oil and gas development is unlikely.
BLM also refused to consider the downstream impacts that drilling thousands of new gas wells would have on our climate. The oil and gas sector is the largest U.S. industrial emitter of methane, which is the second-biggest driver of climate change after carbon dioxide. Yet, the Trump Administration is rolling back any and all regulations aimed at mitigating those impacts, including safeguards against the industry’s rampant methane leaks and waste on public and private lands nationwide.
The court agreed with the groups finding that BLM failed to adequately consider the climate impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions from transport and consumption of oil and gas. The court found the agency also failed to consider any alternatives that would meaningfully limit oil and gas drilling in its planning process. The judge ordered the BLM to consult with Wilderness Workshop and other plaintiffs to work out a remedy, which will likely happen in coming weeks.
“This decision is a big win for those of us who believe that we need to consider all of the impacts of developing natural gas, including transporting and burning it,” said Peter Hart. “The ruling also confirms that BLM should not prioritize oil and gas development over all other uses on our public lands. The full implications of this victory haven’t been ironed out, but rest assured that we will continue to fight for more thoughtful and informed decision-making on our beloved public lands.”