25 august 2016

Environmentalists fight feds for hiding climate harm of public lands drilling in west

Denver Post August 25, 2016

Environmentalists launched a legal fight Thursday challenging federal government leasing to oil and gas companies of nearly 400,000 acres of public land in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

Their lawsuit filed in federal court contends Bureau of Land Management officials failed to disclose the foreseeable environmental impact and billions of dollars in societal costs of oil and gas extracted from public lands. It demands that the BLM conduct full environmental impact analyses, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act, before leasing rights to drill.

“This is one of the greatest environmental and social justice challenges we face,” WildEarth Guardians attorney Tim Ream said after he and colleagues based in western states filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. “In a nutshell, the government has been hiding the climate change impacts of its oil and gas leasing program using public land.

“What is the cost to society? … The government is legally required to disclose impacts of oil and gas lease sales of public land on the environment. Climate change and emissions impacts have to be disclosed,” Ream said.

“The question is whether or not impacts are reasonably foreseeable. That is the legal standard under NEPA. It does not matter whether the oil and gas is burned in the United States of some other country.”

Oil and gas industry leaders denounced the lawsuit, calling it naive.

BLM officials said they’re aware of it. “Although we do not provide comment on pending litigation, the BLM has been working over the last several years to update and modernize the rules governing its oil and gas program,” the BLM said in an emailed response to Denver Post queries. “The BLM will continue to work with lessees and operators to implement best management practices and to promote safe and efficient operations and minimize impacts to the environment.”

Physicians for Social Responsibility is backing the lawsuit, which targets 397 Obama administration leases that cover 379,950 acres of public lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Attorneys said they may broaden the lawsuit to include public land in Montana, New Mexico and other states.


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