In March of 2019, the Federal District Court in Washington D.C. ruled in favor of Guardians in its lawsuit against the Department of Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), targeting 397 oil and gas leases, covering 379,950 acres of public land in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. In its landmark decision, the Court found that the agencies’ evaluation of the climate impacts of its leasing decisions were not properly analyzed, and thus the lease sales violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The oil and gas leases, issued under the Obama administration, affect a wide range of public lands, including Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Utah’s Red Rock Country, and archeological hotspots around New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. In addition to direct harms to local air quality, water quality, and other environmental resources, oil and gas drilling and fracking result in significant emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which contribute to the worsening climate crisis.
Guardians’ lawsuit focuses on BLM’s failure to assess the potential impacts on climate from opening nearly 400,000 acres of public land to new oil and gas development, of particular concern given estimates that 10 percent of U.S. climate pollution can be traced back to the extraction of publicly owned oil and gas. Notably, the Court recognized BLM’s failure to assess the cumulative impacts of its leasing activities, and directed the agency to consider the “cumulative impact of GHG emissions generated by past, present, or reasonably foreseeable BLM lease sales in the region and nation.”
On remand, BLM attempted to quickly paper over its inadequate prior environmental analyses, but Guardians successfully challenged the agency’s failure to take the Court’s order seriously. Continuing this litigation through an Amended Complaint, Guardians and its partner Physicians for Social Responsibility again held BLM accountable for the cumulative climate impacts of its continued oil and gas leasing activities. On November 13, 2020, the Court held that BLM’s supplemental analysis on remand of the Wyoming leases again failed to take a hard look at the climate impacts of the agency’s decisions. The court again remanded the Wyoming leases to BLM and enjoined further oil and gas development until the agency is able to fully comply with NEPA.