A federal judge late last Friday approved the Bureau of Land Management’s request to rescind the Grand Junction resource management plan following a lawsuit by environmental groups challenging the agency’s failure to analyze its potential harm to the climate. The plan, which the Bureau must now redo, opened nearly 1 million acres of public land in western Colorado to fracking and drilling and prioritized fossil fuel production over all other public-lands values.
“The federal government must finally begin to align the management of public lands oil and gas development with the science and timeline of the climate crisis,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney and Climate & Energy Program director at Western Environmental Law Center. “The remand of this plan creates an opportunity to protect and support thriving landscapes and resilient communities, while also advancing U.S. climate goals and commitments.”
“For too long BLM officials have willfully ignored the fact that federal fossil fuel programs conflict with U.S. climate goals. This order sends them back to the drawing board,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “New oil and gas wells don’t fit with the Biden administration’s goals to transition to clean energy and conserve 30% or public lands and waters by 2030. Our rapidly warming planet simply can’t afford it.”
In 2016 the BLM approved the 20-year Grand Junction resource-management plan, allocating 935,600 acres for oil and gas leasing and predicting development of nearly 4,000 new oil and gas wells. The BLM failed to analyze climate impacts from lease sales in the plan area and conservation groups sued the agency in 2019.
“BLM’s plan prioritized oil and gas development over all other public land values and uses, disregarding the agency’s multiple use mandate and the public support for protecting wildlife, wilderness and recreation,” said Peter Hart, staff attorney at Wilderness Workshop. “With this remand, the agency has another chance to ensure the spectacular BLM wildlands surrounding Grand Junction aren’t simply handed over to the fossil fuel industry.”
Conservation groups prevailed in a similar lawsuit challenging the BLM’s failure to analyze climate impacts for its 2015 Colorado River Valley resource management plan for public lands adjacent to the Grand Junction plan. The BLM also failed to consider alternatives that would generate less greenhouse gas pollution.
“We are hopeful that the Bureau of Land Management will be reviewing this plan in addition to many other plans that would cause climate change and community impacts,” said Phil Hanceford, conservation director for The Wilderness Society. “We look forward to engaging in this and other short-sited plans in the future that prioritize science and communities that should drive policies on our public lands.”
Friday’s order comes as the Biden administration is reviewing federal oil and gas programs because of their climate pollution and other potential harms.
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, 801-300-2414
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.
Oil, gas and coal extraction includes mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroy habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have done immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water for millions of people.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for keeping the world below a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase.