WildEarth Guardians files suit against BLM
Conservation groups are taking to the courts to stop the Bureau of Land Management from selling oil and gas leases on public lands in Utah and Northwest Colorado.
In a September 2018 lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and three other conservation groups against BLM, the environmental groups want a judge to declare a December 2017 Vernal field office oil and gas lease sale and two June 2018 oil and gas lease sales in Colorado and Vernal, Utah to be set aside and vacated back to BLM.
Earth Justice Staff Attorney Stuart Gillespie said the four environmental groups filed another civil action in federal court last month as part of their ongoing litigation.
“I guess technically, it’s two complaints now, but it’s all part of the same lawsuit at the outset,” Gillespie said.
At the heart of the suit, according to Gillespie, is BLM’s failure to abide by longstanding air quality laws.
“The primary thrust of the case is the impacts of oil and gas leases on air quality,” Gillespie said. “The ozone issues that we are seeing at Dinosaur National Monument are severe, and that’s something the BLM has failed to consider despite our repeated comments.”
The suit notes the Environmental Protection Agency has formally designated the Uintah Basin — part of which extends into Moffat County — as an ozone non-attainment area under the Clean Air Act due to high levels of ozone pollution.
Though a spokesman from BLM declined Wednesday to speak on the record about any ongoing litigation, the Bureau of Land Management has been a frequent target of lawsuits from environmentalists over the years, with lawsuits filed often after any major BLM land use decision.
Moffat County’s Natural Resource Director Jeff Comstock said such suits often aren’t successful, as BLM is used to defending their decisions in court.
“They know the kinds of things they’ll be sued over, so they cover themselves,” Comstock said.
Comstock also noted the use of Dinosaur National Monument’s new Dark Sky designation in the environmentalist’s June complaint.
“What it tells me is these groups have another tool in their belt to file suit against Bureau of Land Management mineral leases,” Comstock said.
Comstock is more worried about Senate Bill 181. He said the rule-making process for the new law at the state’s oil and gas commission will have a much bigger affect on oil and gas in Moffat County than any environmentalist suit.
“The impacts from those changes will be greater than anything at BLM,” Comstock said.
Gillespie maintains BLM has acted beyond the law as the agency continues to flout longstanding environmental protection laws.
“Unfortunately, BLM has significantly ramped up its oil and gas leasing across the entire west, including Colorado and Utah,” Gillespie said. “Part of that effort has involved circumventing environmental protections … and hastily pushing out lease sales without the requisite analysis. I think this case is going to establish a strong precedent and force the agency to really take a look at the evidence at take a hard look before it leaps. It will also have significant benefits for air quality for Dinosaur National Monument and the citizens of Moffat County.”