WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project have called on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and immediately suspend all open public comment periods, planning processes, and major policy development. In a letter to the Deputy Bureau of Land Management Director, we highlighted the fact that virtually all American lives have been seriously disrupted as the COVID-19 crisis has grown, preventing many people from engaging in the agency’s management of public lands and resources.
In spite of the outbreak of novel coronavirus in the United States, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to move forward on plans to sell public lands for fracking, rollback environmental safeguards, adopt new plans for the management of public lands and resources, and authorize private development. In our letter, we pled with the BLM to suspend these actions, stating “At this moment in time, there is simply no need for the BLM to undertake management actions and activities that distract the American public from doing their part to move the United States forward in this time of crisis and uncertainty.”
BLM’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has so far been muted. The agency has issued no statements or directives and taken no action to specifically address the crisis. Guardians and Western Watersheds Project are hoping the agency rethinks its refusal to respond to a crisis that is now affecting every American and we urge BLM to join us and all other Americans in making the response to the COVID-19 crisis the highest priority for this nation.
Read the press release.
We’ve highlighted how New Mexico’s unprecedented fracking boom is undermining the state’s climate progress, but a new report we released last month with Oil Change International confirms that more oil and gas extraction is a recipe for complete climate failure.
It confirms New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s support for more oil and gas development is completely at odds with her bold commitments to confronting the climate crisis.
And it confirms that the health, prosperity, and future of New Mexico absolutely depends on the state charting a path away from oil and gas extraction.
An Outsized Climate Footprint
At issue is the full lifecycle of greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil and gas extraction. While drilling and development of new wells unleashes huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, it’s the ultimate consumption (i.e., burning) of oil and gas that really matters from a climate standpoint.
All told, the latest report, which was released together with New Energy Economy, Physicians for Social Responsibility, EarthCare, and Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (also known as YUCCA), found that oil and gas extraction in New Mexico was responsible for more than 228 million metric tons of carbon pollution in 2018.
According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalency factors, that equals the annual carbon emissions of 58 coal-fired power plants.
It’s this massive, outsized climate footprint that is really alarming for New Mexico.
After all, 228 million metric tons of carbon is nearly four times the total amount greenhouse gas emissions released from all sources in New Mexico in 2018. That’s enormous.
What’s worse, this outsized climate footprint is only getting bigger.
Projections in the latest report, which are based on industry data and forecasts, show oil and gas extraction in New Mexico will ultimately be responsible for more than 478 million metric tons of carbon annually by 2030.
In other words, the climate footprint of the state’s oil and gas production sector is set to more than double in size in just a little over 10 years.
A Threat to State’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals
This massive increase in climate pollution is projected even as New Mexico is working to meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Under an Executive Order signed last year by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state aims to reduce emissions 45% by 2030.
That means by 2030, total greenhouse gas pollution in New Mexico should drop from 66.6 million metric tons to 45.5 million metric tons.
However, even if New Mexico meets this goal, increased oil and extraction stands to completely erase the climate progress that would be made.
As the latest report shows, not only do total greenhouse gas emissions tied to oil and gas extraction currently overshadow all in-state emissions, but their projected increase will drown out any and all climate gains within the state.
Put another way, New Mexico can’t keep fracking and have any chance of meaningfully confronting the climate crisis.
New Mexico Turning its Back on Problem
Unfortunately Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Administration has dismissed these climate concerns, effectively saying they’re someone else’s problem.
In a statement, her Secretaries of the Environment Department and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resource Department commented that, “such emissions are a function of the incentives and regulations of those states[.]” In other words, other states are to blame, not New Mexico.
While it’s true that nearly all downstream, or end-use, emissions from oil and gas extraction in New Mexico are released elsewhere, this doesn’t mean the state can’t make a difference.
As one recent report from the Stockholm Environmental Institute confirmed, meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets “must be led by a rapid and near-immediate decline in the use and production of fossil fuels.”
In fact, supply-side policies have been identified as critical to ensuring the pace and effectiveness of demand-side climate policy. Not only do they deter investment in fossil fuels, but they reduce the overall cost of curtailing greenhouse gas emissions and limit fossil fuel overproduction that slows the success of demand-side policies.
More importantly, the refusal to accept responsibility is belied by the fact that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Administration IS ACTUALLY RESPONSIBLE for all greenhouse gas emissions resulting from oil and gas production in the state.
After all, it’s her Oil Conservation Division that ultimately decides whether or not to approve new oil and gas wells in New Mexico.
This means her Administration has the authority to decide whether to condone more oil and gas production and the resulting climate pollution, or condemn it.
Sadly, the state seems content to condone.
It’s telling that in New Mexico’s Climate Strategy, released last fall by the New Mexico Interagency Climate Change Task Force, there’s not a single acknowledgment of the need for the state to transition away from oil and gas production in order to confront the climate crisis.
Climate Action Means Confronting Fossil Fuel Production
It’s clear that to make effective climate progress, New Mexico needs to confront the climate footprint of the oil and gas industry and take steps to wind down and ultimately phase out production.
This is not only entirely consistent with science and reality, it’s also consistent with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s own bold statements and commitments around climate.
New Mexico can’t frack its way to a safe climate. Unless and until Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledges the need to phase out oil and gas extraction, then the state has no chance of rising to the challenge of confronting the crisis.
Now, more than ever, it’s time for New Mexico to “step up.”
A federal appeals court today ruled the Trump Administration illegally approved a loophole that allowed the coal industry to despoil unroaded National Forest lands in western Colorado.
Called the “North Fork Exception,” the loophole would have exempted coal companies from compliance with the Colorado Roadless Rule, which protects pristine, unroaded lands on National Forests across the state.
The “North Fork Exception” opened the door for Arch Coal’s subsidiary, Mountain Coal Company, to expand its West Elk mine into wild lands directly adjacent to the iconic West Elk Wilderness Area.
Together with Earthjustice, High Country Conservation Advocates, Wilderness Workshop, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club, we sued to overturn the “North Fork Exception.” Thankfully, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit agreed with us that the Forest Service illegally approved the loophole.
Today’s win is another important victory against the Trump Administration’s attempts to give away public lands at the expense of our climate.
This month, WildEarth Guardians took direct action to defend the climate and iconic public lands from fracking in the world’s largest oil producing region.
In an opening brief submitted in a lawsuit we filed last May, we called on a federal judge to overturn the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s sale of 62,000 acres–nearly 100 square miles–of public lands for fracking in southeast New Mexico’s Greater Carlsbad region.
In the filing, WildEarth Guardians’ attorneys Daniel Timmons, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, and Becca Fischer laid out how the Bureau of Land Management illegally ignored the climate consequences of selling public lands in the Greater Carlsbad region for fracking.
We also called on the court to “vacate” the sale of public lands for fracking.
The Greater Carlsbad Region
This area of southeast New Mexico is part of the Permian Basin, which is currently the world’s largest oil producing region and a a gigantic source of climate pollution. This pollution includes methane released from well sites and pipelines, as well as carbon dioxide released from the processing and combustion of oil.
A recent report by Oil Change International found that if extraction continues unchecked, more than 55 billion metric tons of carbon stand to be unleashed by 2050 as a result of fracking in the Permian Basin. Based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency factors, that’s equal to the amount of carbon dioxide released annually by more than 14,000 coal-fired power plants.
The Greater Carlsbad Region is also known for its vast tracts of federally managed public lands, including the iconic Carlsbad Caverns National Park. While known for its world-renowned cave system, the Park also contains and is surrounded by extensive undeveloped wild lands.
Under Siege by Fracking
In response to oil and gas industry demands, the Bureau of Land Management has been liquidating public lands for fracking around Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
From 2017-2018, the agency sold the rights for industry to drill and extract on nearly 62,000 acres in the region, sacrificing public lands and enabling companies like Exxon and Chevron to keep flooding our atmosphere with carbon.
The sales came as the Bureau of Land Management also proposed in 2018 to open up even more public lands for fracking in the region. This is all part of the Trump Administration’s “energy dominance” agenda, which seeks to sell out public lands and resources for the private gain of the fossil fuel industry.
Thankfully, WildEarth Guardians and other advocacy groups have pushed back against Trump’s “energy dominance” plans, challenging the sale of public lands for fracking, offshore drilling, and coal mining in federal courts across the country.
For the most part, we’ve been winning.
We are living in a time of climate crisis—an existential threat to humanity posed by the runaway accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, largely driven by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, including oil and gas. Yet the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) not only refuses to fully acknowledge this dire situation, but is actively pursuing an “energy dominance” agenda incompatible with reducing its GHG emissions, as needed to avoid climate catastrophe.
– WildEarth Guardians’ Attorneys Daniel Timmons, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, and Becca Fischer
After all, to justify “energy dominance,” the Trump Administration has had to advance absolute climate denial. Fortunately, federal judges have refused to tolerate the failure of the Bureau of Land Management, as well as other federal agencies, to acknowledge and act on facts, science, and reality.
Climate Comes First
Our legal efforts to overturn the sale of public lands for fracking in the Greater Carlsbad region comes as recent reports have sounded the climate alarms in New Mexico.
Just last week, we joined Oil Change International and other partners in releasing a new study highlighting how unchecked fracking in the state threatens Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s greenhouse gas reduction objectives.
As we’ve said time and time again, we can’t frack our way to a safe climate.
And with reports continuing to confirm that fossil fuel extraction from public lands and waters throughout the United States is unleashing massive amounts of climate pollution, we can’t afford not to confront fracking in the Greater Carlsbad region as aggressively as possible.
Put simply, we have to keep our oil and gas in the ground.
Our legal case is set to unfold over the next year and a ruling is likely in early 2021. Stay tuned for updates!
Our nation’s bedrock environmental law–the National Environmental Policy Act–is under attack by corporate polluters and their cronies in the Trump Administration, threatening our right to a healthy environment in the United States.
Fortunately, we have a chance to fight back against this brazen assault and defend our health and communities.
Most people have no clue what the National Environmental Policy Act is, but virtually everyone knows what it does.
Passed 50 years ago, the law ensures federal agencies analyze and fully disclose the environmental impacts of their activities. More importantly, it gives the public the right to be involved and to influence federal actions that may affect their environment.
Described as “our basic national charter for protection of the environment,” the National Environmental Policy Act has been a critical check on the activities of our federal government.
Often called NEPA (that’s pronounced “nee-puh”), the law enshrined the goal of environmental protection in the United States and enforced the need to involve the public in federal decisions. And since its passage, NEPA has worked tremendously.
It’s given communities a voice and sway when new highways are proposed through neighborhoods. It’s empowered local and state governments to stand up to federal agencies. It’s provided Tribes the tools needed to defend sacred lands. And it’s enabled watchdogs across the country to make a difference for people and the planet.
The law has truly been a ray of sunshine and for Americans.
For WildEarth Guardians, NEPA is absolutely key to protecting and restoring wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health in the American West.
For over 30 years, we’ve relied on the law to confront proposals by federal agencies to log old growth forests, dam rivers, decimate wildlife, destroy the climate, and desecrate sacred lands. We’ve relied on the law to mobilize support for safeguarding endangered species, protecting wilderness, and saving lands and waters throughout the American West.
Just last month, we filed suit in federal court to block the sale of nearly two million acres of public lands for fracking in five western states over the federal government’s failure to comply with NEPA. The case confronts the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s refusal to account for the climate impacts of authorizing more fossil fuel production and more greenhouse gas emissions.
For WildEarth Guardians, as well as countless other environmental, health, community, justice, Indigenous, and other advocates, NEPA is the backbone of our accountability efforts. It’s given us all the tools needed to stand up to private, often well-financed efforts to exploit our environment at the expense of our health and well-being.
Sadly, because groups like WildEarth Guardians have successfully used NEPA to defend our environment, it’s come under fire by polluters who view the law as an impediment to their ability to exploit communities and public resources.
Claiming the law is inefficient, cumbersome, and ineffective, corporate interests have for many years called for its gutting. Now, with Trump and his pro-polluter cadre in the White House, these interests are launching an unprecedented strike on our nation’s basic charter for environmental protection.
In a draft released on January 10, the White House Council on Environmental Quality published a proposed set of regulations that, if adopted, would effectively roll back and destroy NEPA as we know it (watch our recent Facebook Live check-in to learn more about these rollbacks).
The rules would completely rewrite regulations originally promulgated in 1982 and in doing so, completely upend our ability to hold our federal government accountable to protecting our environment. It’s not surprising that lobbyists for the nation’s polluters have described the rules as “exactly” what they recommended to the Trump administration.
Among the sweeping changes, the Trump administration’s proposal would:
- Strike language describing NEPA as “our nation’s basic charter for environmental protection” and instead describe the law as procedural and only requiring federal agencies to minimally disclose the environmental impacts of their actions;
- Severely restrict opportunities for public involvement in federal agency actions affecting the environment;
- In many situations, exempt federal agencies from having to complete environmental reviews;
- Let agencies shortcut environmental reviews and to reject science and public comments;
- Undermine transparency by allowing agencies to withhold environmental information from the public;
- Make it more difficult for watchdogs to enforce NEPA before administrative appeals boards or federal courts; and
- Prohibit federal agencies from analyzing and disclosing cumulative environmental impacts, or the impacts of their actions when added to the impacts of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable activities.
That last proposed change is particularly distressing. The duty for the federal government to address the cumulative impacts of its actions is a critical and powerful means of ensuring agencies don’t worsen environmental problems, like climate change.
By eliminating the duty to account for cumulative impacts, the proposed changes would completely erase the federal government’s responsibility to protect our environment.
In keeping with the anti-public spirit of the proposal, the Council on Environmental Quality has also provided only 60 days for people to provide comments on the draft regulations and scheduled only two public hearings–one in Denver and one in Washington, D.C.–where only a little more than 100 people will be allowed to comment.
There’s no doubt that if approved, the proposed rules would effectively shut the American public out of the operations of the federal government, leaving our environment, our communities, our health, and our families more vulnerable than ever.
In response to Trump’s attack on NEPA, a massive coalition of advocates across the country are gearing up to fight back.
The resistance is kicking off in Denver, Colorado this Tuesday, February 11. That day, the Trump administration is holding its first of two public hearings on the proposed rollbacks.
While many will be speaking at the formal hearing, the Council on Environmental Quality provided only 112 speaking slots that were filled in less than five minutes due to extremely high demand. That’s why most people will be speaking and rallying across the street as part of the “Peoples Hearing to Protect NEPA,” an all-day action meant to uplift and empower the voices that were excluded by the Trump administration.
Groups are also pushing back in other critical ways. Last month, WildEarth Guardians joined hundreds of other groups in demanding the Trump administration extend the public comment period for the proposed rollbacks and calling for more public hearings.
Congressional leaders are also rising up to defend NEPA. In a bipartisan letter last month, U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, a Democrat, and Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, a Republican, were joined by hundreds of other members of the U.S. House in calling on the Council on Environmental Quality to back down from the proposed rollbacks.
In the meantime, now, more than ever, we need your voice to help derail these terrible rollbacks to NEPA. If you haven’t yet, sign our petition and join thousands of others who are rising up to speak out for our environment and our voice.
Together, we can thwart Trump and his gang of polluters in the White House. Together, we can #ProtectNEPA.
Although WildEarth Guardians’ latest lawsuit over fracking on public lands is about confronting the climate crisis, it’s also about defending our irreplaceable and iconic American lands from oil and gas extraction.
Given this, we thought we’d share a few images and background on the public lands implicated in our latest lawsuit. Click here to see the full map of the areas involved in our case >>
Each of these landscapes is threatened by the Trump Administration and their attempts to sell out American lands to oil and gas companies. If we win our case, these lands will gain a major reprieve from industrialization.
Scroll down to see more!
Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado
Our case involves several tracts of land in the Pawnee National Grassland of northeast Colorado, home to the iconic Pawnee Buttes. The Grassland itself is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, but the minerals underneath are managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
We’ve been working for years to defend the Pawnee from fracking. With our latest lawsuit, we’re taking a stand for this often overlooked, yet unmatched high plains landscape.
Red Desert, Wyoming
The Red Desert of southwestern Wyoming is an amazingly wild landscape and contains the highest concentration of Bureau of Land Management-designated Wilderness Study Areas in all of the American West. Located just south of the Wind River Range, the region sustains a desert elk herd, migratory pronghorn, deer, and many other wildlife species.
In the last three years, the Trump Administration has effectively liquidated the Red Desert to the oil and gas industry, auctioning off hundreds of thousands of acres for fracking. Our lawsuit aims to overturn these sales and safeguard the Red Desert.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Fracking has boomed recently in the Greater Carlsbad region of southeast New Mexico, tied to the broader explosion in oil and gas production in the Permian Basin. At the doorstep of this boom is Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is world-renowned not just for its extensive underground cave system, but its stunning above-ground natural beauty.
Oil and gas extraction in the region not only threatens the cave systems of Carlsbad Caverns, but is fueling dangerous air pollution and threatening water contamination. Our lawsuit targets the sale of more than 55,000 acres of public lands for fracking in the Greater Carlsbad region.
Tongue River Valley, Montana
Southeast Montana’s Tongue River Valley is relatively frack-free at the moment. Its remote rolling hills, pine breaks, and the thriving Tongue River have experienced little oil and gas extraction over the years.
Sadly, that might change. As the Trump Administration has sold thousands of acres of public lands for fracking in this region in recent years, it’s clear the oil and gas industry is looking for a new play and a new opportunity to profit from the exploitation of American lands.
Our lawsuit seeks to overturn the sale of thousands of acres of lands for fracking in the Tongue River Valley and to defend the region from fossil fuel industrialization.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Not more than 20 miles away from Bryce Canyon National Park, the Trump Administration offered thousands of acres of public lands for fracking in Utah. Oil and gas extraction these lands stands to fuel air pollution in the Park and industrialize this otherwise undeveloped landscape.
Our case challenges the proposal to sell public lands near Bryce Canyon for fracking and to keep the greater Bryce Canyon area frack-free.
Powder River Basin, Wyoming
The Powder River Basin of northeast Wyoming is undergoing an intense fracking boom and the sale of public lands is enabling unbridled oil and gas extraction. Located east of the Bighorn Mountains and west of the Black Hills of South Dakota, this vast region is a unique expanse of untouched high prairie.
The Powder River Basin contains both the Thunder Basin National Grassland and a checkerboard of lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. While these lands have remained relatively undeveloped over the years, the latest fracking boom stands to transform them into industrial sacrifice zones.
Glacier National Park, Montana
The Trump Administration is even selling public lands for fracking on the doorstep of Montana’s Glacier National Park and right next to the Blackfeet Tribe’s Reservation. Over the last three years, thousands of acres of public lands have been sold for fracking in Glacier and Toole Counties, both gateways to the greater Glacier National Park region.
The sale of public lands for fracking east of Glacier National Park is doubly injurious and insulting given that the climate crisis is destroying the Park’s iconic glaciers.
Our case challenges the sale of public lands near Glacier and hopefully will help defend the Park from future climate destruction.
North Park, Colorado
Colorado’s North Park is nestled between the Park Range on the west and the Never Summer Mountains to the east, a high mountain valley that is incredibly rural and wild. At its core is the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, which supports thriving populations of sage grouse, waterfowl, and other wildlife. The region even attracts a wolf every now and then.
Sadly, this region has been devastatingly exploited for oil and gas in recent years. Companies have fracked for oil and simply flare gas as waste. It’s the worst example of how the oil and gas industry uses public lands to subsidize wasteful production and marginal development.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Even America’s iconic Yellowstone National Park is at risk from the Trump Administration’s sale of public lands for fracking. The Administration has sold thousands of acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry within 30 miles of this most iconic Park, mostly near the town of Cody, Wyoming.
The Greater Yellowstone region is a wilderness gem in the lower 48 United States, supporting an immense diversity of fish and wildlife. Fracking near the Park threatens to impact wildlife, air quality, and the integrity of this natural landscape.
While we’re working hard to confront the climate crisis, it’s important to remember that ultimately, this is about protecting America’s public lands.
As 2020 gets underway, WildEarth Guardians is ringing in the New Year by delivering another round of climate accountability to the oil and gas industry and their cronies in the Trump Administration.
Together with our partners with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Western Environmental Law Center, this week we dropped two new major legal filings on the Administration. Both challenge the failure of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to address the cumulative climate impacts of selling American public lands for fracking.
Enforcing Landmark Federal Court Ruling
On Monday January 6, 2020, we filed the opening brief in a lawsuit targeting the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of more than 300,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Wyoming.
We originally won this lawsuit, as well as an injunction on drilling in Wyoming, back in March of 2019. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras held the federal government illegally failed to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from selling public lands for fracking both regionally and nationally.
The ruling was hailed as a landmark victory. It ultimately compelled the Bureau of Land Management to also acknowledge that it had also failed to comply with federal law when selling more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Colorado and Utah.
“[The] agency must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions generated by past, present, or reasonably foreseeable BLM lease sales in the region and nation.”
— U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management refused to comply with the court’s order.
Instead of honestly assessing and disclosing the climate consequences of authorizing more oil and gas extraction, the agency rushed to do more paperwork and ultimately re-approve the same decision the federal judge said was illegal.
While we tried to enforce Judge Contreras’ injunction, he ultimately directed us to amend our lawsuit. In doing so, he warned that he would not hesitate to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of public lands for fracking and encouraged the agency to refrain from approving any more drilling.
So, in late September 2019, we amended our lawsuit and now we’re proceeding to brief the matter. With our opening brief now filed, a ruling is likely by the end of 2020.
A New Lawsuit and a Major Climate Action Ramp-up
Not content to just challenge the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to account for the climate consequences of selling 300,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Wyoming, on Thursday January 9, 2020, we filed a brand new lawsuit targeting the Trump Administration’s sale of nearly two million acres of public lands for fracking.
Together with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Western Environmental Law Center, our latest suit is a major escalation in our efforts to defend the climate from fracking on public lands.
The case targets the sale of public lands to the oil and gas industry in five western states, including Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. It includes a whopping 1.9 million acres of public lands, including more than 1.6 million acres in Wyoming.
It’s the biggest lawsuit that’s ever been filed over public lands oil and gas leasing.
Our latest case aims to build on our previous win and secure broader and deeper accountability to climate by the Bureau of Land Management. And it comes as the Trump Administration is not only taking aim at the disclosure of climate impacts under federal law, but actively denying the climate crisis.
And with scientists increasingly highlighting the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground on public lands to protect the climate, we have to push back harder than ever on the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of public lands for fracking.
Our aim? To overturn the sale of every acre of public lands sold to the oil and gas industry by the Trump Administration. With our latest lawsuit, we’re on track to make that happen.
Most importantly, this week of action to defend our climate and public lands from fracking is critical for confronting the climate impacts of the entire federal onshore and offshore oil and gas programs.
Currently, Democratic candidates for U.S. President are largely endorsing an end to selling public lands for fracking. Our legal actions stand to provide the motivation and backing for any Democratic candidate for President to follow through with this vision.
And if Democrats don’t win in 2020, our legal advocacy will serve as an important check on the Trump Administration. Either way, our lawsuits are setting the stage for accountability to climate and to public lands.
If we have any chance of confronting the climate crisis, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground. That starts with our public lands.
Stay tuned for more as WildEarth Guardians and its partners continue to hold the line for our climate, our future, and for the American West.
This week and part of next, a series of public events are set to unfold that will advance efforts to safeguard clean air and rein in the fracking industry’s toxic air pollution in Colorado. You can show up, speak out, and help make a difference!
Billed as a “Week of Action for Clean Air in Colorado,” WildEarth Guardians will be joining a coalition of allies to show up on the frontlines and ensure strong, new rules are adopted that put Colorado on the path for clean air, a safe climate, and healthy communities.
To really win, we need your help! Everyone in Colorado has a chance to engage. Below is the schedule of events. Scroll down even further for more background info.
Week of Action for Clean Air in Colorado!
- Tuesday, December 10: The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission is holding a public comment hearing from 6-8 PM in Rifle (on the Western Slope) around new rules to rein in the fracking industry’s toxic air pollution and holding a public comment hearing. This is a chance to show up and speak out for stronger clean air rules, click here for more info >>
- Wednesday December 11: The Air Quality Control Commission will hold another public comment hearing from 6-8 in Durango. This is a chance to show up and speak out for stronger clean air rules, click here for more info >>
- Thursday December 12: This morning there’s a big federal court hearing in WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit against seven oil and gas companies for violating the Clean Air Act in Colorado. This lawsuit challenges industry’s abuse of the 90-day loophole, which allows companies to frack without legally required clean air permits. The hearing starts at 9:30 AM and will take place at the federal courthouse in Denver.
- Monday December 16: The Air Quality Control Commission is holding another public comment hearing for oil and gas clean air rules, this one is in Loveland and starts at 4:30 PM, This is a chance for Colorado Front Range residents to show up and speak out for stronger rules, click here for more info >>
- Tuesday December 17 through Thursday December 19: The Air Quality Control Commission is set to kick off its formal rulemaking hearing. WildEarth Guardians will be providing testimony and advocating for stronger rules on behalf of the Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition. We’ll also be fighting back against industry efforts to weaken new rules.
If you can’t show up to one or more of these events, then at least sign our petition calling on Colorado Governor Jared Polis to get behind stronger clean air rules, including a ban on flaring!
The oil and gas industry’s toxic emissions are not only fueling dangerous levels of ground-level ozone, particularly along the Front Range, but also threatening communities and residents with cancer-causing benzene and other harmful gases.
It’s no wonder regulators have been blunt that current levels of fracking pollution are “not acceptable.”
Spurred in large part by the passage of new state legislation that puts public health and safety ahead of the interests of the oil and gas industry, the Air Commission is weighing whether to adopt new rules to clamp down on emissions.
Deemed a “first step” to fully confronting the oil and gas industry’s pollution, the rules stand to eliminate loopholes, tighten controls, and ensure greater transparency around companies’ emissions.
The proposed rules come as report after report shows regulation is dangerously inadequate.
Current rules are not only flawed, but not effectively enforced. Researchers also continue to confirm that regulators have drastically underestimated total emissions, erroneously claiming that industry’s pollution has been reduced.
What’s more, health studies continue to confirm significant short and long-term risk to people and communities in proximity to fracking sites.
Compounding these health risks, the Denver Metro/Front Range region continues to fail to meet health standards for ozone, the key ingredient of smog. On December 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will declare the area a “serious” nonattainment area for ozone.
To top it off, industry is chronically violating clean air laws, abusing a loophole that in some situations allows companies to obtain permits to frack after drilling and beginning production.
Last May, WildEarth Guardians sued seven companies in federal court under the Clean Air Act to put an end to this abuse and these widespread violations. A hearing in this case is scheduled for this Thursday, December 12 in Denver.
There is a need for stronger clean air rules in Colorado, to eliminate loopholes, and to slash emissions. And the Air Quality Control Commission has adopt new rules as a first step forward.
However, from our perspective, the science is clear that to truly restore clean air, the state has to wind down and ultimately phase out oil and gas extraction.
Coupled with the need to fully safeguard public health and protect the climate, Colorado needs to ultimately get off fossil fuels.
If the Governor is serious about clean air and health, then he has to support the Air Quality Control Commission and also push for even deeper pollution cuts and a move away from oil and gas extraction.
We’ll see how everything unfolds over the next week or so. Hopefully Colorado will take the first big step toward reining in the oil and gas industry’s toxic air pollution and set the stage to help the state transition away from fossil fuels.
While Colorado has made bold commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if Governor Jared Polis overlooks the full carbon footprint of the oil and gas industry, the state stands to fall short of achieving meaningful climate action.
Implementing the Colorado Climate Action Plan
This week, officials with the Governor’s Office, Department of Public Health and Environment, and Energy Office are set to unveil a roadmap for meeting the state’s ambitious climate goals.
At the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission’s monthly meeting this Thursday, they’ll share more around the “development, scope, and timing” of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
The briefing comes as the Air Commission will develop rules to implement House Bill 19-1261, otherwise known as the Colorado Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution. The Plan sets three key goals for reducing climate pollution:
- Achieve a 26% reduction (below 2005 levels) in statewide greenhouse gases by 2025;
- Then achieve a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030; and
- Finally achieve a 90% reduction in emissions by 2050.
Without a doubt, these are aggressive goals. Achieving them is exactly the bold action needed to confront the climate crisis right now.
However, if Governor Polis and the Air Commission aren’t careful, any statewide climate gains could be erased in the face of ramped up fracking.
The reason: Colorado is a huge exporter of oil and gas.
Colorado’s Outsized Climate Footprint
That means Colorado has an outsized climate footprint that extends far beyond its state lines. But just how big is this footprint?
We can calculate that using factors developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that estimate how much lifecycle carbon pollution (i.e., from production to consumption) is tied to oil and gas production.
According to these factors:
- For every barrel of oil produced, 0.43 metric tons of carbon dioxide is ultimately released.
- And for every thousand cubic feet of gas produced, 0.0551 metric tons of carbon is ultimately released.
Doing some math, we can see how much climate pollution Colorado exports as it pipes, trucks, and otherwise ships oil and gas out of state.
Let’s take oil and gas production in 2018.
According to a query of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission production data, companies sold more than 176 million barrels of oil and more than 2.2 billion thousand cubic feet (i.e., 2.2 trillion cubic feet) of gas in 2018, an unprecedented amount.
Crunch the numbers and that adds up to nearly 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emission.
Based on projections for 2019, where even higher levels of production are expected, we’ll likely see emissions associated with oil and gas production exceed 200 million metric tons.
The table below shows total production by year and estimated carbon emissions.
To put this all into perspective, Colorado’s most recent greenhouse gas inventory report discloses that in 2015, total statewide emissions from ALL sectors amounted to nearly 127 million metric tons of carbon.
By 2020, regulators project statewide emissions of a little over 125 million metric tons of carbon.
That means oil and gas production is responsible for nearly twice as much climate pollution as all other sources of emissions within the state of Colorado.
Also to put this into perspective, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator, 200 million metric tons of carbon equals the amount of climate pollution released every year by 51 coal-fired power plants.
Now it’s true, not all oil and gas produced is shipped out of state to be burned.
Yet with more than 90% of oil and the vast majority of all gas exported, it still means statewide emissions pale in comparison to the climate footprint of the oil and gas industry.
Confronting Colorado’s Full Climate Impacts
This means at current rates of fracking, even if Colorado achieves its greenhouse gas reduction goals, it will still be responsible for a huge amount of climate pollution.
Any climate action plan that refuses to acknowledge this or do anything about it would be an utter failure.
So what can Governor Polis and the Air Quality Control Commission do?
Even though Colorado’s Climate Action Plan is based on statewide greenhouse gas reductions, it doesn’t mean that regulators can’t prioritize opportunities to reduce emissions that lead to reductions in oil and gas emissions even outside the state.
For example, the Air Commission could prioritize setting rules that actually decrease the level of oil and gas production in Colorado, such as through a declining cap on emissions and an offsetting program.
And it doesn’t mean that regulators can’t start to disclose total lifecycle oil and gas industry emissions associated with oil and gas production.
Ultimately, Governor Polis and the Air Quality Control Commission have to acknowledge the need to wind down and ultimately phase out oil and gas extraction in the state.
That may be a tough political pill to swallow, but to do otherwise is nothing short of climate denial. The reality is, Colorado can’t frack its way to a safe climate.
A Healthy Move
Helping Colorado transition away from oil and gas production wouldn’t just be good for the climate, it stands to greatly improve the state’s air quality and health.
Along the Front Range “unacceptable” levels of oil and gas industry air pollution have pushed ground-level ozone concentrations to dangerous highs. Ozone, which is a key ingredient of smog, is such a serious problem along the Front Range that the Environmental Protection Agency is set to sanction Colorado for failing to comply with health standards.
The study underscores that reining in fracking near homes and communities will safeguard public health. In doing so, it will also keep greenhouse gases in check.
A Call to Action
WildEarth Guardians and its partners are calling on Governor Polis and the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to clamp down on fracking and help the state transition from oil and gas.
However, we need your help to make this happen! If you haven’t yet, sign the petition today and tell Colorado’s Governor and the Air Commission that they need to clamp down on the oil and gas industry and rein in their toxic pollution.
If Colorado has any chance of meaningfully confronting the climate crisis, it has to rein in fracking and oil and gas extraction.
Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Congress had the wisdom to designate Joshua Tree as a national park, one part of the California Desert Protection Act. The designation elevated these magical lands to one of the highest levels of protection possible for our nation’s public lands.
A quarter century ago I also joined the staff of WildEarth Guardians, and swore to protect, defend and restore the public lands that are central to the identity of the American West.
Anniversaries like these should be a time to celebrate the past; instead I’m worrying about the future. In the case of Joshua trees I worry because not even a national park designation is sufficient to protect them.
That’s because the climate crisis is warming our planet so fast that species, including Joshua trees, will not have the time to adapt. In fact, scientists from the UC-Riverside found that even under the best case scenario — meaning with aggressive action to reduce greenhouse emissions — only one in five Joshua trees will survive the next 50 years.
That’s a bleak scenario, one that WildEarth Guardians is doing everything in our power to prevent. It’s a Guardian’s duty to stand up to the government when the government isn’t doing its job. The Guardian’s charge is now ever more critical under an Administration that continue to disavow and deny the biodiversity and climate crises before us.
On Nov. 4, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit challenging a Trump administration decision to ignore the science when it denied Endangered Species Act safeguards for the Joshua tree.
When the very icons and namesakes that define our national parks can no longer survive, we have a problem that should alarm every citizen of our great nation. Sadly, that is the reality we’re facing not only with the Joshua tree, but also with the disappearing glaciers of Glacier National Park and the declining Saguaros of Saguaro National Park.
Instead or working to remedy these problems the Trump administration is only making them worse. Whether through issuing oil and gas leases to allow fracking on millions of acres of public lands, attacking public participation in decisions affecting our national forests or recently eviscerating the Endangered Species Act this administration is undoing environmental safeguards at an unprecedented pace.
While the blueprint for destruction is being clearly deployed there’s also a countervailing restorative blueprint for our lands, wildlife and our democracy that invokes the power of the public voice. That blueprint keeps me hopeful during these dark times.
After all, there’s a long history of inspired citizens and a caring government protecting species and lands, including the Joshua tree. Marshaling science and engaging in legal action will no doubt extend the Joshua tree a lifeline, but these acts alone can’t save it.
The Joshua tree was named for its distinct, ascending branches that reminded early Mormon settlers of the Biblical figure Joshua, reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer. My prayer today is that the Joshua trees’ millions of fans — its famous musicians, poets, writers, and mystics among them — will speak out and refuse to allow the loss of such a beloved and irreplaceable figure of the natural world.
If they do so we can not only save the Joshua tree as an American treasure, but we can also reclaim and restore our democracy.