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Another Court Win for PSR

Photo: WildEarth Guardians

In another court win for PSR, a federal court ruled that the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in violation of federal law, failed to disclose the climate impacts of leasing more than 300,000 acres of public lands for fracking and oil and gas extraction in Wyoming.

The decision declares the sale of those oil and gas leases illegal and blocks future drilling on that acreage, which comes to 475 square miles.

PSR and our co-plaintiffs WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center initially won the lawsuit in March 2019. That ruling, issued by Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was hailed as a landmark victory for the climate.

However, in response, the BLM refused to comply with the court order, attempting to paper over its violations with a hasty climate assessment that sought to re-approve the same decision deemed illegal by the court.

This month, Judge Contreras found that BLM again failed to account for the climate consequences of selling public lands for oil and gas extraction. The judge stated that BLM’s climate assessment was “a sloppy and rushed process” and fell “short of what NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] requires and what the Court ordered.”

The Judge also ordered an injunction on drilling the oil and gas leases at issue, effectively banning new oil and gas development on the Wyoming public lands involved in the case.

This latest victory helps to cement the requirement that the federal government take into account the climate impacts of the drilling and fracking it allows on public lands. Leasing affords private companies the right to drill, frack, and produce oil and gas, the burning of which contributes heavily to climate change.

The ruling is further significant because, while centered on Wyoming, it implicates federal oil and gas leasing on public lands across the country. It found, among other things, that BLM failed to properly account for oil and gas leasing occurring beyond Wyoming, including in neighboring states. Judge Contreras faulted the agency for “[f]ailing to analyze the lease sales in the region, and other reasonably foreseeable lease sales in the country.”

PSR is proud to have placed a significant roadblock in the path of the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda, which prioritized fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters in the U.S. Under President Trump, the Department of the Interior and BLM have fast-tracked leasing, selling millions of acres to oil and gas companies, mostly in the American West.

A 2018 U.S. Geological Survey report found that oil and gas produced from public lands and waters contributes to 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. A 2018 report by the Stockholm Environmental Institute also confirmed that ending public lands fossil fuel production could significantly reduce nationwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Ending the sale of public lands for fracking would also yield enormous health benefits. Besides impacting the climate, the fracking Compendium released in June 2019 by PSR and Concerned Health Professionals of New York documented extensive health risks associated with oil and gas extraction, including cancer, asthma, pre-term birth, and more.

President-elect Biden has explicitly committed to ending oil and gas leasing as part of his climate and clean energy agenda. Biden has pledged that on Day One of his administration, he will ban oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters across the U.S.

WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center have been at the forefront of defending the climate from rampant oil and gas leasing on public lands in the American West.

In addition to the current case, the groups filed suit in January 2020 over nearly two million acres of oil and gas leasing under the Trump administration. This fall, the Bureau acknowledged the failures of its decisions and sought a voluntary remand for nearly all of those leased lands, which was granted by the court. The few remaining leases in that case remain pending.