A Montana-based environmental watchdog group is hoping to uncover e-mails from energy lobbyists and the Interior Department.
The Western Values Project is concerned coordination between the federal land management agency and representatives from the energy industry resulted in proposed changes to the sage grouse management plans.
The group initially filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, but decided to move forward with a lawsuit after two months.
In early August, Secretary Ryan Zinke released proposed changes to the 11-state collaborative sage grouse plans, which aimed to increase oil and gas development on previously protected lands. The Western Values Project was wary of lobbyist’s influence starting with a leaked document it obtained. The document showed fifteen requests from a lobbying firm. The Interior Department met 13 of those in its proposed changes according to Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project.
O’Neill said his organization wants to better understand how the Interior Department made its decisions. The complaint requested all digital correspondence from energy actors in Montana, Wyoming, and groups like the American Petroleum Institute, Western Energy Alliance, and Independent Petroleum Association of American.
O’Neill said he’s concerned about the focus towards energy development considering federal lands are meant to be multi-use — accommodating conservation, recreation, and development.
“When that multi-use is given up for just one industry, you know, it shows that the decision isn’t incorporating what is important to all rural western communities,” he said.
The group expects to have a judge assigned to the case and move forward with the case from there.