Judge gives agency more time to name North Fork lease nominators, or file appeal
Tax Day will also be deadline day for the Bureau of Land Management to either say who nominated thousands of acres for oil and gas leasing in the North Fork Valley, or appeal a judge’s order that it do so.
U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard Matsch on Monday granted the agency’s request for another 30 days — until April 15 — to decide how to proceed in the matter.
Last month, in what the plaintiffs called a precedent-setting decision, Matsch ruled against the agency’s longstanding policy of not revealing the entities that nominate parcels for leasing until after lease sales occur.
The Delta County group Citizens for a Healthy Community and the Western Environmental Law Center had challenged the policy after the BLM proposed leasing about 30,000 acres in the North Fork Valley. It later reduced the proposed acreage to about 20,500 acres before deferring its proposal for further study.
The BLM says it withholds identities for factors such as protecting a nominator’s confidential commercial or financial information and preventing bid collusion. But in his ruling, Matsch cited arguments including the possibility that a nominator’s identity might be relevant to people who want to a raise a concern about the nominator’s environmental record.
While Matsch had given the BLM 30 days to identify the North Fork nominators, the BLM said in a motion that federal appeal rules give the government 60 days from an order’s issuance to decide whether to appeal.
“The full sixty days is needed for the government to make the appeal decision,” it said, arguing that the delay would cause no harm due to the postponement of the leasing.
The plaintiffs didn’t oppose the request for more time.
However, “We look forward to the BLM following the law and serving the public interest by releasing this illegally withheld information,” Western Environmental Law Center attorney Kyle Tisdel said in a statement.