In the wake of a legal victory by WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center, the U.S. government asked for and a federal judge ordered a climate review of the impacts of public lands fracking in Colorado and Utah.
“This is another win for the climate and another step forward for defending our public lands from unchecked fracking,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program director. “The Trump administration simply has no defense; it can’t deny its duty to disclose and take action on the climate impacts of fossil fuel development on public lands.”
“Fracked gas is dangerous for people and terrible for the climate,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Program director for Physicians for Social Responsibility. “This latest win is not only another victory for our health and future, but it reinforces that the oil and gas industry doesn’t get a free pass to pollute.”
Last Friday May 24, the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) asked a U.S. District Court for a “remand” of several decisions to sell public lands for oil and gas development that were issued in 2015 and 2016 in Colorado and Utah. This would return the decisions to the agency for revision.
Today, the Court granted the motion in a short order, meaning the agency is now on the hook to complete new assessments of the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing.
The remand comes results from a landmark federal court ruling in March 2019.
That ruling held the Interior Department failed to account for the cumulative climate implications of leasing more than 300,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming for fracking.
The Judge stated the agencies must “consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions generated by past, present, or reasonably foreseeable BLM lease sales in the region and nation.” The ruling signaled that unless Interior and the BLM account for the climate costs of all oil and gas leasing in the U.S., the agencies will run afoul of federal law.
The case originally targeted more than 450,000 acres in total of oil and gas leasing in the states of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
For case management purposes, the Wyoming portion of the case was briefed first. In the wake of the March ruling on leasing in Wyoming, the feds have now conceded they similarly failed to account for the climate impacts of leasing on more than 150,000 acres in Colorado and Utah.
In response, the groups intend to ask the judge to order a halt to the issuance of any new drilling permits on the leases while Interior and the BLM complete their climate assessments. In the March ruling, the judge ordered a similar halt to drilling in Wyoming.
“While this motion continues to affirm the Trump administration can’t legally turn its back on climate change, we need accountability,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, managing attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “This isn’t a matter of doing more paperwork, it’s a matter of enforcing restraint to preserve our ability to keep making progress for the climate.”
Last fall, scientists with the Department of the Interior released an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the production and consumption of fossil fuels from public lands. The report found these emissions, which come from federal coal, as well as offshore and onshore oil and gas, accounted for nearly 25 percent of all U.S. climate pollution.
At the same time, federal climate scientists released Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which sounded new alarms over the costs of climate change to the U.S. The report called for “immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions” to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
“With the science mounting that we need to aggressively rein in greenhouse gases, this latest concession by the Trump administration is critical,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney and Energy and Communities Program director for the Western Environmental Law Center. “Our initial court win is proving to be a powerful reality check on the Trump administration and a potent tool for reducing climate pollution.”
More than 25 million acres of public lands in the U.S. have been leased to the oil and gas industry for development. More than 20 million of these acres are located in the western states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
Under Trump, the pace of leasing public lands for oil and gas development has surged. In 2018, nearly 4 million acres were put up for sale to the oil and gas industry. So far in 2019, the administration auctioned off or proposed leasing more than 2.1 million acres.