Fresh off a victory in a similar case, environmentalists are suing the federal government to challenge the Bureau of Land Management's local resource management plan as it pertains to oil and gas development.
The suit filed Tuesday pertains to the environmental impact statement for the management plan for the Grand Junction Field Office. It says the plan failed to consider the climate impacts of foreseeable oil and gas development when it comes to indirect impacts resulting from the combustion of that oil and gas. The suit says the EIS also failed to take a hard look at the cumulative climate impacts of the foreseeable development when considered in combination with the BLM's nationwide oil and gas program, or look at management alternatives that would meaningfully limit oil and gas leasing and development.
A year ago, a federal judge ruled that the BLM failed to adequately consider greenhouse gas impacts from oil and gas consumption in its new resource management plan for the Colorado River Valley Field Office based in Silt, or consider reasonable alternatives to oil and gas leasing and development. Last month, the BLM reached a settlement with plaintiffs in that case under which it will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement to address the deficiencies identified in the ruling. It also agreed not to lease any land for oil and gas development within the field office's jurisdiction pending completion of that new analysis.
The BLM's Grand Junction Field Office planning area includes lands in Mesa, Garfield, Montrose and Rio Blanco counties. The plan allocates 935,600 acres for possible oil and gas leasing, projecting that 4,000 wells might be drilled in the 20-year planning period.
The suit was brought by the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wilderness Society, with legal help from the Western Environmental Law Center.
Peter Hart, staff attorney for the Wilderness Workshop, said that rather than disclosing the climate impacts of fossil fuel development at the resource management plan stage, the BLM said it would do it later, but when it started selling oil and gas leases under the plan it said the plan considered the impacts. Conservationists also sued the BLM agency over those leases in 2018.
Conservationists have been suing the federal government in multiple states over alleged failure to adequately consider climate impacts related to fossil fuel development, and have been experiencing some success with those suits. Judge Lewis T. Babcock, who issued the ruling in the Colorado River Valley Field Office case, issued a similar ruling in May regarding federal environmental reviews of proposed oil and gas projects in the upper North Fork Valley.
Said Hart, "There have been a number of recent court opinions that are saying the same thing — climate change is something that these agencies need to be taking a hard look at."
Environmentalists note that the new suit pertains to BLM acreage that surrounds Grand Junction, where the BLM plans to relocate its national headquarters.
BLM spokesman Jayson Barangan said the agency can't comment on pending litigation.
Eric Carlson, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association industry group, said he thinks such suits are going to continue.
"I think it's something that the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wilderness Workshop have made it their mission to push for an incorporation of an assessment of climate change impacts from any leases," he said.
He said it's been a technical challenge for public agencies to figure out what such assessments should include, but from his experience the BLM is working hard to determine what it is expected to do in those assessments.
"This is really more of a procedural challenge more than anything else," Carlson said.
He said the issue is ripe for lawsuits because for now, anyway, he's not aware of any process that scientists, courts and agencies have agreed is an acceptable way to consider climate-change impacts of agency decisions.