Groups fight Colorado River Valley lease plan
A coalition of local and national conservation groups filed a legal challenge Monday to a resource management plan for the Colorado River Valley.
The groups, including Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop and Western Colorado Congress, the latter of which has been heavily involved in oil and gas proposals in Battlement Mesa, filed a civil complaint in U.S. District Court Monday against top ranking U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management officials.
They argue that BLM failed to acknowledge the impact of its decision regarding resource management on public lands in the Colorado River Valley planning area, which includes 567,000 acres in Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin, Routt, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties.
The resource management plan, solidified in a record of decision last summer, closes 98,100 acres of minerals to future oil and gas leasing, and leaves 603,100 acres of federal mineral estate open to oil and gas leasing and development.
Areas closed to energy leasing include state wildlife areas, municipal boundaries, areas managed for wilderness characteristics, certain recreation areas and other areas of critical environmental concern.
“For years we have asked BLM to take a hard look at the impacts of oil and gas development on public lands,” Peter Hart, Wilderness Workshop’s staff attorney, said in a press release Monday. “On some issues we’ve made progress. In this plan, however, BLM basically left open all our public lands to future leasing and development, and ignored the fact that oil and gas development impacts human health and contributes to climate change. We deserve a more thoughtful approach to public land management, and the law requires it.”
David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the BLM Northwest Colorado District, said the bureau does not comment on litigation. However, he clarified that the resource management plan (RMP) does not provide a blanket authorization for new oil and gas development of federal land.
Any new leasing still must go through a site-specific review.
In sum, the RMP slightly reduced the amount of federal land available for leasing, Boyd said, while noting that less than one-fourth of oil and gas development in Garfield County is on federal land.
In the complaint filed Monday, the groups allege BLM failed to comply with elements of the National Environmental Protection Act and implementation regulations because it did not fully evaluate the impacts of oil and gas on human health.
“Science tells us that drilling for dirty fuels — especially fracking — causes serious harm to human health and the environment,” Sierra Club’s Nathan Matthews said in a press release. “BLM ignored this evidence when it decided to allow additional drilling for oil and gas in the Colorado River Valley. BLM can’t sweep these issues aside, and if it had taken a serious look at the issues, it would have recognized that drilling for oil and gas on our public lands is wrong.”
The complaint also accuses the BLM of turning a blind eye to the potential climate change impacts resulting from the decision.
“BLM underestimated both the magnitude and the impacts of methane emissions resulting from its implementation of the Colorado River RMP,” the groups wrote in the complaint.
Monday’s complaint is the most recent in a long-running effort by conservation groups to limit oil and gas development on federal land.
More recently, the groups filed a protest in May 2014 over the BLM’s proposed RMP and final environmental impact statement. The groups also filed a protest, which ultimately was denied, after BLM issued a record of decision in June 2015.
David Ludlam, executive director of West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, called the complaint “a regressive abuse of the Equal Access to Justice Act.”
“Such filings perpetuate a scam on the working-class public. … The strategy also hinges on a willingness of an administration known to settle on terms favorable to activists indirectly handing them victory alongside legal fee reimbursements,” he said.
Ludlam added that WSCOGA will communicate with congressional representatives, saying the complaint “is a keystone example whereby Congress must reform this gross corruption of process.”
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