A New Tenant On Federal Lands: Court Orders BLM To Consider Climate Impacts In Approving Energy Leases

In a victory for environmental groups, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling this week with far-reaching consequences for energy projects on federal lands and “the attention the government must give climate change when taking action that may increase its effects.”1 In Wildearth Guardians v. Jewell, the Honorable Rudolph Contreras found that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by approving oil and gas leasing on federal lands in Wyoming without “taking a hard look at climate change impacts” from drilling operations.2

Under NEPA, federal agencies must conduct environmental assessments that consider the environmental consequences, both direct and indirect, of proposed major federal actions to determine whether the agency must conduct a more comprehensive analysis through an environmental impact statement.3

In Wildearth Guardians, the court ruled that BLM's environmental assessment was inadequate. As a result, BLM must expand its analysis by:

Quantifying and forecasting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to oil and gas drilling. Considering GHG emissions from the downstream use of oil and gas produced from leased federal lands. Comparing GHG emissions to state, regional and national emissions forecasts, as well as to other foreseeable regional and national BLM projects.4 Until BLM bolsters its analysis, it may not authorize new drilling on the leased Wyoming parcels.5 As a result, this decision effectively expands NEPA's reach to require more robust climate-related analyses. Although the court did not go so far as to require BLM to consider the social...

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