Description: Action to block oil and gas leasing until Bureau of Land Management conducts programmatic review of its oil and gas leasing program that considers climate effects.
WildEarth Guardians v. Bernhardt
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 01/26/2021 Motion Download Unopposed motion filed by plaintiffs to file supplemented complaint. The plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion to supplement their complaint to challenge the environmental assessments BLM prepared for the Colorado and Utah leases during the voluntary remand. The plaintiffs alleged that the new EAs “continue to fail to properly analyze the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on our climate as required by this Court and NEPA.” 11/13/2020 Memorandum Opinion Download Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment granted in part and defendants' motion for summary judgment denied. Federal Court Found Flaws in New Climate Change Analysis for Wyoming Oil and Gas Leases. The federal district court for the District of Columbia ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to adequately consider the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing in Wyoming in accordance with the court’s March 2019 opinion that identified shortcomings in BLM’s original analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. First, the court found that BLM’s cumulative impacts analysis was still inadequate because BLM’s supplemental environmental assessment (EA) did not adequately explain and failed to consistently apply a standard for determining what lease sales were reasonably foreseeable at the regional and national level. Second, the court concluded that BLM should have calculated and considered total greenhouse emissions, instead of merely relying on comparisons of yearly emission rates. Third, the court found that BLM used internally inconsistent emission rates. Fourth, the court found that BLM failed to engage in reasoned decision-making regarding whether to conduct a carbon budget analysis. Finally, the court rejected BLM’s argument that errors that the plaintiffs identified in the supplemental EA were “flyspecks”; the court indicated that “[w]hile each error in isolation may be merely a flyspeck, when considered together, the errors do raise concerns.” The court did not, however, accept the plaintiffs’ argument that uncertainty about forecasting greenhouse gas emission levels was a factor that would on its own require an environmental impact statement. The court also declined to vacate BLM’s leasing decisions and instead enjoined BLM from issuing drilling permits for the leases while it responds to the court’s decision. 05/22/2020 Reply Download Reply filed by Wyoming and Utah in support of cross-motion for summary judgment. 05/22/2020 Reply Download Reply memorandum filed by American Petroleum Institute in support of its cross-motion for summary judgment. 05/22/2020 Reply Download Reply filed by Western Energy Alliance and Petroleum Association of Wyoming in support of cross-motion for summary judgment. 05/22/2020 Reply Download Reply filed by federal defendants in support of their cross-motion for summary judgment. 05/01/2020 Reply Download Plaintiffs filed consolidated reply in support of plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment after remand and response to defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment. 01/06/2020 Motion for Summary Judgment Download Motion for summary judgment after remand filed by plaintiffs. Plaintiffs Said BLM’s New Greenhouse Gas Analysis Was Arbitrary and Capricious. the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment after remand, arguing that BLM “threw together an error-riddled Supplemental Environmental Assessment” (Supplemental EA) in response to the court’s finding of deficiencies in its original analysis of greenhouse gas emissions. The plaintiffs asked the court to find BLM’s re-approval of the leases arbitrary and capricious. They said BLM should have considered total, cumulative emissions, as opposed to annual emission rates; that BLM underestimated direct and indirect emission rates “through mathematical sleight of hand”; that BLM failed to assess reasonably foreseeable future emissions from regional and national BLM actions; and that “BLM’s carbon budget analysis was inconsistent, irrational, and arbitrary.” In addition, the plaintiffs argued that BLM’s rationale for finding the leases’ greenhouse gas emissions to be insignificant was inconsistent with statements in the Supplemental EA and that the finding of no significant impact failed to assess whether the leases were related to other actions with cumulatively significant impacts. 12/06/2019 Notice Download Federal defendants filed notice of completion of NEPA analysis and related decision making for the challenged Colorado leasing decisions. 09/27/2019 Complaint Download Amended and supplemented complaint filed. 07/19/2019 Memorandum Opinion Download Court denied plaintiffs' motions to amend judgment and enforce remand order. Federal Court Declined to Enjoin Activity on Challenged Oil and Gas Leases. The federal district court for the District of Columbia denied a request by plaintiffs to enjoin the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from authorizing new oil and gas drilling on Colorado and Utah leases challenged in this case. The court previously granted BLM’s motion for voluntary remand of the National Environmental Policy Act environmental review documents associated with the Colorado and Utah leases so that BLM could supplement its review in accordance with the court’s March 2019 decision finding the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions associated with Wyoming leases also at issue in the case to be deficient. The court said the motion to reconsider its remand order was not the proper vehicle for obtaining injunctive relief and concluded it could not amend its remand order to grant injunctive relief in the absence of any briefing on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims pertaining to the Colorado and Utah leases. The court also denied the plaintiffs’ motion to enforce its March 2019 order to continue enjoining activity on the Wyoming leases. Because BLM had completed supplementary analysis by preparing revised environmental assessments and findings of no significant impact and because the court declined “to second-guess BLM’s performance of its duties,” the court found that the plaintiffs had received the relief provided by the March 2019 decision. The court said the plaintiffs would have to supplement their complaint to raise any new claims regarding BLM’s revised analysis. The court warned BLM, however, that it would “not hesitate to unwind any improper grants of authority to drill on the Wyoming, Colorado, or Utah land.” 06/21/2019 Response Download Response to motion to enforce March 19, 2019 memorandum opinion and order filed by Western Energy Alliance and Petroleum Association of Wyoming. 06/20/2019 Opposition Download Opposition filed by intervenor-defendant American Petroleum Institute to motion to enforce. 06/20/2019 Opposition Download Opposition to motion to enforce filed by intervenor-defendant American Petroleum Institute. 06/20/2019 Opposition Download Federal defendants filed opposition to plaintiffs' motion to enforce March 19, 2019 remand order. 06/20/2019 Opposition Download Opposition filed by Wyoming and Utah to plaintiffs' motion to enforce March 19, 2019 remand order. 06/19/2019 Reply Download Reply filed by plaintiffs in support of motion to amend judgment. 06/18/2019 Response Download Response filed by Western Energy Alliance to motion to amend judgment. 06/12/2019 Opposition Download Opposition filed by intervenor-defendant American Petroleum Institute to motion for reconsideration of remand order. 06/07/2019 Motion Download Motion filed by plaintiffs to enforce March 19, 2019 memorandum opinion and order. 06/04/2019 Motion Download Motion filed by plaintiffs to amend judgment. 05/29/2019 Minute Order Federal defendants' motion for voluntary remand granted. Federal Court Granted Voluntary Remand for Supplemental Environmental Review of Oil and Gas Leases in Colorado and Utah. The federal district court for the District of Columbia granted federal defendants’ motion for voluntary remand of environmental assessments, findings of no significant impact, and determinations of NEPA adequacy prepared for oil and gas leasing on public lands in Colorado and Utah. The federal defendants’ motion followed the court’s March 2019 opinion finding that BLM failed to adequately quantify climate change impacts for oil and gas leasing decisions in Wyoming. The case had been separated into three phases, with each phase focused on a different state, starting with Wyoming. After the March 2019 decision, BLM determined that further analysis was also appropriate for the leasing decisions in Colorado and Utah. On remand, BLM must conduct supplemental environmental review in accordance with the March 2019 opinion. 05/24/2019 Motion Download Motion for voluntary remand and memorandum in support filed by federal defendants. 05/07/2019 Notice Download Federal defendants filed second notice of compliance with the court's March 19, 2019 order. BLM Affirmed Decisions on Wyoming Leases After Supplemental Review. BLM filed a notice of compliance indicating it had completed a supplemental environmental assessment for the Wyoming leases and had affirmed the challenged leasing decisions. 04/18/2019 Order Download Colorado's motion to withdraw granted. 04/17/2019 Motion Download Motion to withdraw as intervenor defendant filed by State of Colorado. 04/16/2019 Response Download Plaintiffs filed response to federal defendants' notice of compliance with the court's March 19, 2019 order. 04/12/2019 Notice Download Federal defendants filed notice of compliance with the court's March 19, 2019 order. 03/19/2019 Memorandum Opinion Download Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment granted in part and defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment denied. D.C. Federal Court Said Climate Change Analysis for Wyoming Oil and Gas Leases Was Insufficient. The federal district court for the District of Columbia ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not sufficiently consider the climate change effects of oil and gas leasing in its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review for 282 lease sales covering more than 303,000 acres in Wyoming. The court found that BLM did not take a hard look at drilling-related and downstream greenhouse gas emissions associated with the leases and that BLM failed to “sufficiently compare those emissions to regional and national emissions.” Regarding drilling-related emissions, the court rejected the argument that BLM could defer its consideration of certain environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, until the drilling stage; the court said NEPA required BLM at the leasing stage to “reasonably quantify the [greenhouse gas] emissions resulting from oil and gas development on the leased parcels in the aggregate.” The court found that BLM had sufficient information to forecast greenhouse gas emissions at this stage and concluded that BLM’s justification for limiting its analysis to qualitative discussions of greenhouse gas emissions and their impacts was not reasonable. The court also rejected BLM’s argument that the environmental assessments for the lease sales had been “tiered” to environmental impact statements (EISs) for resource management plans that quantified emissions; the court noted that not all of the EISs included such quantitative analysis and that the analysis in the EISs that did quantify emissions was not adequate for the leasing stage analysis. With respect to downstream emissions from combustion of oil and gas, the court found that such emissions were indirect effects of the oil and gas leasing under the applicable “heightened” causation standard. The court declined, however, to require BLM to quantify downstream emissions. Instead, the court remanded for BLM to “strengthen” its discussion of downstream effects and directed the agency to consider whether quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from downstream use was “reasonably possible,” including through use of an emissions calculator suggested by the plaintiffs. Regarding cumulative effects, the court ruled that BLM’s refusal to quantify greenhouse gas emissions rendered its cumulative impacts analysis inadequate. BLM’s duty under NEPA, said the court, was to “quantify the emissions from each leasing decision—past, present, or reasonably foreseeable—and compare those emissions to regional and national emissions, setting forth with reasonable specificity the cumulative effect of the leasing decision at issue.” The court stated that “[g]iven the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before irretrievably committing to that drilling.” The court rejected, however, the plaintiffs’ contention that BLM was required to use certain protocols—the “social cost of carbon” and the “global carbon budget”—to quantify climate change impacts. The court did not vacate the leasing decisions but enjoined BLM from authorizing new oil and gas drilling on the leases while the agency conducts its additional analysis. 06/30/2017 Motion for Summary Judgment Download Motion for summary judgment filed by plaintiffs. 12/19/2016 Answer Download Answer filed by federal defendants. 11/23/2016 Memorandum Download Memorandum and order issued granting motions to intervene. Federal Court Allowed Oil and Gas Trade Groups to Intervene in NEPA Challenge to Leases. The federal district court for the District of Columbia allowed three oil and gas trade associations to intervene in a challenge to federal approvals of oil and gas leases on public lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility argued that the federal defendants had not complied with their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in approving the leases because the environmental review had not analyzed direct, indirect, and cumulative climate effects associated with the specific leasing authorizations challenged in this case as well as with federal oil and gas leasing at a programmatic level. The court said that the trade associations were entitled to intervene as of right because their members, who held leases challenged in the litigation, had legally protectable interests that might be impaired by the litigation. The court also said that the federal defendants did not adequately represent the intervenors’ interests. The court declined to limit the associations’ participation by requiring joint briefing or by confining their arguments to the existing claims. 08/25/2016 Complaint Download Complaint filed. Lawsuit Filed to Void Oil and Gas Leases Until BLM Considers Climate Impacts. WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility asked the federal district court for the District of Columbia to vacate authorizations for almost 400 oil and gas leases on public lands in three states because the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had not complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The plaintiffs asked the court to enjoin BLM from approving drilling applications until it had complied with NEPA by preparing an environmental impact statement that analyzed direct, indirect, and cumulative climate effects associated with the specific leasing authorizations challenged in this case as well as with BLM’s oil and gas leasing at a programmatic level.