Description: Challenge to environmental reviews conducted for oil and gas lease sales on public lands in Montana.
WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 05/01/2020 Order Download Findings of no significant impact and leases vacated and matter remanded to BLM for further analysis of environmental impacts. Citing Shortcomings in NEPA Analysis of Cumulative Climate and Groundwater Impacts, Montana Federal Court Vacated Oil and Gas Leases. The federal district court for the District of Montana vacated 287 oil and gas leases issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in December 2017 and March 2018 because the environmental assessments for the lease sales failed to meet National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements, including by failing to take a hard look at cumulative climate change impacts. The court said BLM should have catalogued past, present, and reasonably foreseeable actions and analyzed their combined environmental impact but that in this case the four environmental assessments for each of the planning areas did not discuss the other areas even though the EAs covered land sold in the same lease sale. Noting this failure to catalogue even other federal agency projects, the court rejected BLM’s arguments that compliance with NEPA’s cumulative impacts requirements was “impossible.” In addition, the court said neither the “tiering” of the EAs to the resource management plans for the planning areas nor the placing of an individual lease sale’s greenhouse gas emissions in context with statewide and national emissions satisfied cumulative impact requirements. Although the court acknowledged that climate change “certainly poses unique challenges in the cumulative impact analysis,” the court said the “large-scale nature of environmental issues like climate change show why cumulative impacts analysis proves vital to the overall NEPA analysis.” The court stated: “[I]f BLM ever hopes to determine the true impact of its projects on climate change, it can do so only by looking at projects in combination with each other, not simply in the context of state and nation-wide emissions.” In addition to the shortcomings in the cumulative climate impacts analysis, the court found that BLM did not take a hard look at groundwater impacts and failed to provide an adequate explanation for its decision not to consider alternatives suggested by one of the plaintiffs that included groundwater protection measures. 05/08/2019 Reply Download Plaintiffs filed reply in support of motion for summary judgment and response in opposition to defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment. 02/22/2019 Motion for Summary Judgment Download Memorandum filed by plaintiffs in support of motion for summary judgment. 05/15/2018 Complaint Download Complaint filed. Lawsuit in Montana Federal Court Challenged NEPA Reviews for Oil and Gas Lease Sales. Two environmental groups, a Montana landowner, and the owners of an orchard in Montana filed a lawsuit in the federal district court for the District of Montana challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in connection with BLM’s oil and gas lease sales for almost 150,000 acres of public lands in Montana. The plaintiffs alleged that BLM failed to address impacts on groundwater and also failed to address impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts, “perpetuating the fundamental disconnect between the federal government’s management of public lands and the changing climate.” The plaintiffs asserted that BLM’s environmental assessments for the lease sales failed to adequately quantify cumulative emissions; failed to accurately quantify direct and indirect emissions from oil and gas development; failed to monetize the economic costs of greenhouse gas emissions from the lease sales; and failed to provide any measure to demonstrate the context and intensity of the greenhouse gas emissions from the lease sales. The plaintiffs contended that in the absence of this information neither the public nor BLM could compare the costs and benefits of the lease sales or make informed choices between alternatives.