U.S. Judge Invalidates Wyoming Drilling Leases, Cites Inadequate Review of Climate Impacts
A federal judge in Wyoming has disallowed oil and gas drilling leases on more than 330,000 acres (133,500 hectares) of federal land after determining the Trump administration gave inadequate consideration to the climate impacts of the authorization.
“The decision by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington could force the Trump administration to account for the full climate impact of its energy dominance agenda, and it could signal trouble for the president’s plan to boost fossil fuel production across the country,” the Washington Post reports. The initial ruling “has implications for oil and gas drilling on federal land throughout the West.”
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While U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras didn’t void the leases, he instructed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to redo its analysis of hundreds of projects across the affected area.
“This case concerns the attention the government must give climate change when taking action that may increase its effects,” Contreras wrote in a decision released Tuesday. BLM failed “to provide the information necessary for the public and agency decision-makers to understand the degree to which the leasing decisions at issue would contribute to [climate] impacts,” the judge said, and “did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing.”
Contreras disagreed with BLM’s determination that the leases would have no “measurable effect” on national or global production of greenhouse gases, commenting that “the leasing stage is the point of no return with respect to emissions”. He urged BLM to take its responsibilities under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) seriously, stating that “compliance with NEPA cannot be reduced to a bureaucratic formality, and the Court expects (BLM) not to treat remand as an exercise in filling out the proper paperwork.”
WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), the three groups behind the lawsuit, interpreted the ruling as a wide-ranging victory, Climate Liability News reports.
“While the ruling applies to Wyoming, it has implications for public lands across the American West and is a major rebuke to the Trump administration’s anti-environment, anti-climate agenda,” WildEarth Guardians said in a release.
“To limit greenhouse gas emissions, we have to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground and putting an end to selling public lands for fracking,” added Jeremy Nichols, the organization’s climate and energy program director. “This decision is a critical step toward making that happen.”
“Every acre of our public land sold to the oil and gas industry is another blow to the climate, making this ruling a powerful reality check on the Trump administration and a potent tool for reining in climate pollution,” said attorney Kyle Tisdel, energy and communities program director at WELC.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) said the state might appeal the decision, the Post reports.
“We will be exploring options and following up with our state, federal, and industry partners,” he said. “Our country’s efforts to reduce carbon should not centre on the livelihoods of those committed workers and industries who seek to provide reliable and affordable energy, especially when we don’t look to the detrimental effects of other expansive industries. Bringing our country to its knees is not the way to thwart climate change.”