Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Trump Plan for Southwestern Colorado Pushes Fossil Fuel Expansion, Undermines State’s Climate Law
“We will not let this terrible plan for our region stand,” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “After 43,000 no-leasing comments, a decade of local opposition, and pushback by the courts on Trump’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda, it is truly unconscionable that the BLM thinks it appropriate to now open this rare and irreplaceable ecosystem to destruction by the oil and gas industry.”
The resource management plan for the Bureau of Land Management’s Uncompahgre Field Office would result in more than a half a billion tons of new climate pollution over the next 20 years. It follows a similar draft plan released last week by the Trump administration for eastern Colorado that would triple annual greenhouse gas pollution from oil and gas development by 2037. These plans will dictate public lands management in Colorado for decades.
“This plan is a disaster for southwestern Colorado and defies the state’s attempts to rein in climate pollution,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Nearly a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution comes from fossil-fuel extraction on public lands. Ending new oil and gas leasing on public lands is critical to confronting climate change. You can’t solve a problem by making it worse.”
The BLM chose a new plan for the Uncompahgre area that had not previously been released, subverting public notice and comment requirements required under federal law. Despite community concerns about harm to agriculture and recreation, the BLM refused to analyze any alternative that would significantly curb fossil fuel development and rejected a call to prohibit new oil, gas and coal leases.
“While local leaders are actively working to protect our climate and environment, the Trump administration is making a concentrated effort to roll back these safeguards,” said Nathaniel Shoaff, senior attorney at the Sierra Club. “We cannot let the current administration overhaul community concerns and state laws to the detriment of us all.”
The Uncompahgre plan covers about 675,000 acres of public land and almost a million acres of federal minerals in southwestern Colorado. The region includes the North Fork Valley and Telluride, areas that support exceptional outdoor recreation and Colorado’s largest concentration of organic agriculture. The area also includes numerous threatened and endangered species, including Colorado pikeminnows, razorback suckers, greenback cutthroat trout and Gunnison sage grouse.
“The plan is a slap in the face to Colorado’s commitment to reduce climate pollution and the reality of the climate crisis,” said Rebecca Fischer, climate and energy program attorney with WildEarth Guardians. “We’ll see if it stands up in court.”
The BLM claims it was unable to measure “the significance of impacts related to greenhouse gas emissions” and argued that stopping new leases in this single plan wouldn’t stop climate change resource impacts from warming, like drought and wildfires. Yet the agency is currently updating 10 resource management plans, including those governing the nation’s largest source of climate pollution from federal coal production in the Powder River Basin.
“We cannot afford federal decision-making that continues to ignore climate science,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney and energy program director with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Sustained exploitation of oil and gas is incompatible with a livable planet while also impeding the progress of communities like the North Fork Valley that thrive from a sustainable relationship to our public lands.”
Federal fossil fuel production causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a federal fossil-fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 tons. Pollution from already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would essentially exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for a 1.5 degree Celsius target.
Existing laws give Congress and presidents authority to end new federal fossil fuel leasing. Hundreds of organizations have already petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore leasing.