Conservation Groups Sue DOI and Bureau of Land Management Over Leasing Program

A complaint was filed on Tuesday in the District of Columbia against the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and their respective leaders by a coalition of advocacy groups.

The complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief challenges the defendant’s recent decision in which they approved the sale of 173 oil and gas lease parcels across eight U.S. states.

The plaintiffs include Dakota Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper, Montana Environmental Information Center, Rio Grande Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Western Watersheds Project, and Wildearth Guardians. The conservation groups argue that the decision violates both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).

The complaint first details the global climate change crisis, describing it as “the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced.” The plaintiffs assert that the defendants are well aware of the threat and their contributions towards climate change, as they have allegedly admitted that their Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Program is a significant contributor to the global climate crisis, and that their approval of the 173 oil and gas lease sales “will collectively cause billions of dollars in social and environmental harm to people and the planet.”

The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of, despite that knowledge, releasing seven separate environmental assessments where they claimed that the lease sales would have no significant impact on the environment from the perpetuation of fossil fuel exploitation on federal public lands.

The complaint also noted that when President Biden took office in January 2021, he issued an executive order which mandated the Department of the Interior to pause new oil and gas leases pending review and reconsideration. 11 months later, the Department of the Interior released a report on the federal oil and gas leasing program. The report recommended numerous fiscal reforms yet did not analyze the program’s impacts on the environment.

Following the Department of the Interior’s decision to proceed with the leasing program, the Bureau of Land Management began approving lease sales, meaning that federal public lands would start to be used for fossil fuel extraction.

The greenhouse gas emissions released from the federal lands used for fossil fuel extraction are significant. The plaintiffs contend that the emissions are “in no way consistent with a carbon budget aimed at restraining [global] warming below critical thresholds, or with meeting the United States’ commitments to international agreements such as the Paris Accord.”

The National Environmental Policy Act requires agencies to take a “hard look at environmental consequences” when enacting policies. Further, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act requires the Department of the Interior to “account for the long-term needs of future generations,” and prevent the “permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment.” The plaintiffs argue that the defendants have failed to adhere by both NEPA and FLPMA.

The plaintiffs conclude that the defendant’s actions are a “prime example of the fundamental disconnect between the ongoing climate crisis and Federal Defendants’ management of public lands in a manner which prioritizes fossil fuel exploitation.”

The complaint cites two violations of NEPA and one violation of the FLPMA. The plaintiffs are seeking favorable judgment on each count, for the court to vacate the defendants’ leasing authorizations and enjoin them from taking any action, an order requiring them to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, litigation fees, and any other relief deemed equitable by the Court.

The plaintiffs are represented in the litigation by the Western Environmental Law Center.