Government defends itself as it looks to settle suit

The federal government has offered a detailed legal defense of its actions leading to oil and gas leasing on the Roan Plateau, even as it pursues settlement of a lawsuit challenging that leasing.

The government filed a 62-page response to the suit, accompanied by 35 exhibits, on March 23, in compliance with a judge’s deadline.

At the same time, it said in its filing the new administration of President Obama “expressly reserves the right to reconsider” the contested management plan that led to the leasing of more than 55,000 acres on and around the Roan, northwest of Rifle, in August.

The government said it has the authority to rethink Roan management and leasing decisions that “represent the exercise of agency discretion” by a prior administration.

The Bureau of Land Management prepared the Roan plan during the Bush administration. The lawsuit by conservation groups named then-Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne as one of the defendants. The suit since has been revised to name new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in place of Kempthorne.

Salazar, while previously a Democratic U.S. senator from Colorado, had supported phased leasing of the Roan, rather than the Bush administration’s decision to lease it all at once. In his new job, he has stated his intention to explore settlement of the lawsuit, and the government said in its March 23 filing it has “been actively pursuing” such a settlement, and those efforts continue to be a priority for the government.

Meanwhile, the government faced a court deadline for filing its response to the specifics of the lawsuit. The suit says the BLM broke environmental laws in its plan.

In its arguments, the government disputes the contention it failed to consider an adequate range of alternatives for management of the Roan, including more protective ones. It defends its failure to analyze environmental impacts beyond what plaintiffs called “an artificial 20-year window.”

The lawsuit says the BLM evaluated the impacts of only 210 wells it predicted will be drilled on the plateau top over 20 years, rather than the 1,400 to 2,000 wells the agency thinks might eventually be drilled there. But the government responded that “an agency is only required to analyze impacts that are reasonably foreseeable, not those that are speculative or too remote.”

It also defended its air quality environmental analysis, saying the analysis was sufficient to ensure that cumulative impacts would be minimal.


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