Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today to require an analysis of the climate risk from an oil and gas extraction plan covering nearly a million acres of public lands and minerals in western Colorado. The area surrounds the Bureau of Land Management’s new headquarters.
“This plan ignores a climate emergency that gets worse every time the Trump administration OKs more drilling and fracking,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are already more fossil fuels being developed in the world than can be safely burned. It’s reckless to shrug off the damage massive new oil and gas extraction will do to our rapidly warming planet.”
In 2016 the BLM approved a 20-year plan allocating 935,600 acres for oil and gas leasing and predicting development of nearly 4,000 new oil and gas wells.
Since approving the 2016 Grand Junction resource-management plan, the BLM has failed to analyze climate impacts from lease sales in the plan area. Conservation groups sued the agency over this in 2018. Conservation groups recently 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. BLM also failed to consider alternatives that would generate less greenhouse gas pollution.
“The Grand Junction plan says the BLM will approve thousands of new oil and gas wells on our public lands in coming years,” said Peter Hart, staff attorney at Wilderness Workshop. “But rather than considering and disclosing the effects of all that fossil fuel development on climate, the agency said it’d do that later. Then, when BLM started selling leases to facilitate new drilling, the agency said the plan already considered all the impacts. This lawsuit, coupled with the leasing challenge we filed in 2018, exposes the shell game BLM has been playing.”
“BLM has failed to account for the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing for far too long,” said Julia Guarino, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “And despite several court decisions making it clear that this failure is illegal, the BLM continues to allow oil and gas leasing to go forward without considering the climate impacts.”
Today’s lawsuit comes as climate scientists urge drastic cuts to greenhouse gas pollution. It adds to an avalanche of recent lawsuits challenging the federal public land oil and gas leasing program over climate harms. New oil and gas leases commit public lands to producing more pollution for decades.
“The lands at issue are a remarkable resource for wildlife as well as many hunters, bikers, hikers and other recreationists throughout the nation,” said Phil Hanceford, conservation director of The Wilderness Society. “These lands deserve a more thorough look at what is at stake from a changing climate to better inform our management decisions to make public lands part of the climate solution.”
Federal fossil fuel production causes about a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce CO2 emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals.
Federal fossil fuels that have not yet been leased to the industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution. Those already leased contain up to 43 billion tons.
Existing laws provide executive authority to stop federal leasing on public lands and oceans. Hundreds of organizations have petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore federal fossil fuel leasing.