GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Today, the Bureau of Land Management in Montana deferred all 223 parcels subject to an oil and gas lease sale planned for June 12. The decision to postpone the lease sale results from a court decision last month finding the Miles City (Montana) and Buffalo (Wyoming) Field Office’s Resource Management Plans unlawfully overlooked climate impacts of coal mining and oil and gas drilling. The case was brought by a coalition of conservation groups in Montana and Wyoming.
The June 12 lease sale was supported by a Determination of NEPA Adequacy (“DNA”) rather than a more thorough Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement. The DNA omitted the type of climate analysis—including analysis of the downstream burning of the oil and gas under lease—required by the court’s decision last month.
“We commend the Department of Interior for acting in good faith to comply with last month’s court order,” said Western Environmental Law Center Attorney Kyle Tisdel, who represents the groups. “This is a step in the right direction to address the fundamental disconnect between the need to rein in carbon pollution and the way BLM has historically managed our public lands and minerals. We will follow the situation closely to ensure this momentum continues.”
“We are pleased for the deferral but we plan to remain vigilant,” said Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management have shown time and time again that they will do anything to skirt the laws that protect public lands and resources in order to benefit their friends in the oil and gas industry. BLM got caught when the court ruled it failed to follow the law. We are pleased they are taking a step back based on the court’s decision, but we are wary of their intent to comply with the letter and spirit of the law.”
“BLM usually ignores the consequences of oil and gas production for neighboring ranchers and landowners, so it’s encouraging that the agency acknowledges they need more analysis of climate change before leasing new parcels,” said Mark Fix, a cattle rancher near Miles City, Montana. “People in agriculture feel climate change acutely in our operations—we get less rain and more wildfires, and face climate extremes like the EF1 tornado that we had a few years ago. Pausing this lease sale is the right thing to do.”
“The public deserves a full accounting of the climate impacts of oil and gas drilling on public lands,” said Mike Scott, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “No matter how much the Trump administration would like to prioritize the wishes of corporate polluters above all else, the courts have made it clear that they cannot sweep this critical information under the rug.”
In the order, Judge Morris wrote: “Any new or pending leases of coal, oil, or gas resources in the planning areas subject to the Buffalo RMP and the Miles City RMP must undergo comprehensive environmental analyses in compliance with the above Order and all existing procedural requirements under NEPA and the APA.”
Resource Management Plans (RMPs) for BLM field offices in Buffalo, Wyoming and Miles City, Montana, approved in September 2015, kept open 15.4 million acres of public mineral rights on 10.15 million acres of public land (with the remainder of federal mineral rights on private land) for oil and gas drilling and coal mining in the Powder River Basin. The RMPs would have paved the way for an expected 10.2 billion tons of coal to be mined and an expected 18,000 new oil and gas wells to be drilled, including over 6,000 federal wells.
In his decision, Judge Brian Morris of the District of Montana held, “BLM cannot acknowledge that climate change concerns defined, in part, the scope of the RMP revision while simultaneously foreclosing consideration of alternatives that would reduce the amount of available coal.” He ordered BLM to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement to review climate change impacts and consider options for the amount of coal the government will make available for sale and subsequent mining. The judge also called on BLM to do a better accounting of carbon and methane pollution impacts from coal, oil, and gas, both in the planning area when the resources are developed and also “downstream” when the minerals are ultimately burned in power plants.
The Western Environmental Law Center filed the challenge in federal district court in Great Falls on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Montana Environmental Information Center, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Northern Plains Resource Council, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Dan Cohn, Western Organization of Resource Councils, 406-252-9672
Mark Fix, Northern Plains Resource Council, 406-421-5460
Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, 202-495-3051
Margie Kelly, Natural Resources Defense Council, 312-651-7935