Judge Strikes Down ‘Sloppy and Rushed’ BLM Climate Review

A pump jack on public lands. (Courtesy of Ellen M. Gilmer/File/E&E News)
A pump jack on public lands. (Courtesy of Ellen M. Gilmer/File/E&E News)

By Niina H. Farah, Energywire, E&E News

A federal judge has again rejected the Bureau of Land Management’s review of cumulative climate impacts of oil and gas leases in Wyoming, calling the analysis “sloppy and rushed.”

In a ruling late Friday afternoon, Judge Rudolph Contreras for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said BLM failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act in its supplemental analysis of the leases and must redo its work.

“Errors of this nature – that can easily be corrected by double checking the work – may be flyspecks standing alone, but the cumulative effect of all the acknowledged errors undermines the Court’s confidence in the other calculations in the Supplemental [environmental assessment],” Contreras wrote.

The decision is the second time Contreras, an Obama appointee, has sent BLM back to the drawing board to correct its consideration of cumulative climate emissions for the leases on public lands in the state.

The supplemental EA was the agency’s response to a key court order last year in which Contreras faulted the agency’s consideration of climate impacts.

In his latest order, Contreras chided the agency for errors in its calculations in emissions, including BLM’s acknowledged mistake of dividing calculations for the Northern Great Plains region by five instead of three states.

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He called for BLM to “correct the acknowledged errors in the analysis and to carefully review other calculations to ensure accuracy on remand.”

While the judge ordered the agency to go back to substantiate its analysis, he did not require BLM to draft a more rigorous environmental impact statement. In the meantime, he barred the agency from offering any further drilling permits for the Wyoming leases.

“The Court concludes today that BLM failed to take a ‘hard look’ at [greenhouse gas] emissions from the Wyoming Lease Sales – it does not conclude that BLM’s analysis demonstrates that the proposed action requires an EIS,” he wrote.

WildEarth Guardians, which challenged the supplemental EA along with Physicians for Social Responsibility, praised the court’s ruling.

The judge’s decision “speaks volumes to how the BLM over the last four years has cut corners, turned its back on accuracy, and thrown quality and accountability to science out the window,” Jeremy Nichols, director of WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program, wrote in an email.

“Hopefully the incoming Biden administration will see this ruling as yet more justification for a moratorium on leasing and for deep reforms of the onshore oil and gas program,” he added.

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The current case stems from a prior challenge to the same set of oil and gas leases in Wyoming.

In a key decision in March 2019, Contreras ruled that BLM had failed to adequately consider greenhouse gas emissions from leasing. That decision has pushed the agency to redo analyses for leases in other cases, including in another recent case challenging leases in five states (Energywire, Oct. 27).

WildEarth Guardians will leverage Contreras’ latest decision to push for more accountability from the agency, Nichols said.

Asked about the court ruling, BLM gave an oft-repeated statement that the agency was working to implement President Trump’s agenda.

“Our commonsense decisions were based on the best available science,” BLM spokesman Richard Packer wrote in an email.


Reprinted from Energywire with the permission of E&E News. Copyright 2020. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net.