Groups say Roan filing undermines BLM argument for energy leases

Environmental groups say the federal government has abandoned its primary argument for not wanting to protect the Roan Plateau from oil and gas development.

The groups say the Bureau of Land Management is no longer relying on a 1997 law in justifying its position.

The groups make the claim in a brief in a lawsuit challenging the BLM’s leasing of more than 55,000 acres on and around the plateau, northwest of Rifle, in August.

The Obama administration is pursuing a settlement to the lawsuit. In the meantime, in a brief filed in March, the government defended its actions leading to oil and gas leasing on the Roan Plateau.

In a filing April 20, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and other groups say the government no longer claims that the 1997 Transfer Act required that it refuse to consider alternatives that would have kept drilling operations off the plateau top. That act shifted the Roan Plateau from Department of Energy to BLM control.

In its March filing, the BLM speaks of the need to comply with the act’s requirements to engage in leasing. However, it then argues the act doesn’t limit consideration to alternatives involving
substantial development.

Instead, it also considered a “No Action” plan that would have closed off 96 percent of the plateau top to leasing, the agency says.

Environmental groups contend the bureau never seriously considered the option, but only included it among the alternatives because it was legally required.

“However, the record shows that the No Action alternative was evaluated intensively,” the government says in its brief.

It says the BLM appropriately eliminated that alternative after determining it wouldn’t meet the stated purposes and needs of its study — one of those being compliance with the Transfer Act.

Environmental groups say that in the past, the BLM repeatedly had cited language in the Transfer Act in rejecting consideration of proposals to protect the plateau top. The groups long have challenged the BLM’s interpretation of the law.

Spokespersons for the BLM and Department of Interior declined to comment because of the ongoing litigation. Department of Justice spokesperson Andrew Ames said the government’s March filing “speaks for itself.”


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