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Natural Resources & Energy

Court Orders Better Climate Analysis On Public Land In Wyoming

Screetshot of initial court document in a case that's been ongoing for four years
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Last March, a federal court ordered the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management to provide better analysis of the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on public land. After receiving that analysis, the judge rules it's not enough.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia considered the case which relates to 282 parcels spanning 303,995 acres in Wyoming. The parcels had already been leased to oil and gas firms, but Judge Rudolph Contreras isn't allowing activity due to insufficient analysis of greenhouse gas emissions.

In his memorandum opinion Friday, November 13, Contreras said the BLM has still yet to satisfy National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements pointing to inaccuracies throughout the BLM's analysis. For example, total indirect emissions are incorrectly characterized as oil and gas emissions, while actually characterizing total fossil fuel emissions for the whole country including coal.

"While each error in isolation may be merely a flyspeck, when considered together, the errors do raise concerns. The number of errors suggests a sloppy and rushed process, not the '[a]ccurate scientific analysis' that is 'essential to implementing NEPA'," Contreras wrote.

He added that the BLM still must take a "hard look" at the environmental consequences of the proposed action including its direct, indirect, and cumulative effects.

Shiloh Hernandez, staff attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs, WildEarth Guardian and Physicians for Social Responsibility, agreed with the court, saying, "it doesn't really serve the purpose of informing the public and decision-makers of what the agency was going to do. So, the court said this, 'this isn't good enough, go back and try again.'"

A BLM spokesman said its common sense decisions were based on best available science, and that "the Department will continue to implement President Trump's agenda to create more American jobs, protect the safety of American workers, support domestic energy production and conserve our environment."

The Western Energy Alliance (WEA) was also a Defendant in the case. Kathleen Sgamma, WEA president, said she was disappointed with the ruling, but not surprised.

"BLM addressed all the concerns from his original ruling, and now he finds others. We thought Interior should have appealed his first ruling, and it's now clear that would have been the best approach. He's kicked it back to BLM for yet more analysis, even though he's choosing to nitpick the analysis. I'm not sure he'll ever be satisfied," she wrote in an email.

The BLM has 60 days to appeal the court's decision.

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