Judge Tosses Oil and Gas Leases on Nearly One Million Acres of Public Lands
A federal judge threw out oil and gas leases on nearly one million acres of public lands that are important habitat for the greater sage grouse, arguing that a Trump administration policy that curtailed public input on the leases was "arbitrary and capricious."
At the start of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had issued a memo shortening the period for public comment and protest on oil and gas leases from 30 days to 10, Huffpost reported. But U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush ruled in Idaho Thursday that around $125 million worth of leases issued under the new policy be tossed out and the full 30-day comment period restored. In his decision, Bush argued that BLM could not only consider the economic needs of fossil fuel industries at the expense of all other concerns.
"If the words 'justice so requires' are to mean anything, they must satisfy the fundamental understanding of justice: that it requires an impartial look at the balance struck between the two sides of the scale, as the iconic statue of the blindfolded goddess of justice holding the scales aloft depicts," he wrote. "Merely to look at only one side of the scales, whether solely the costs or solely the benefits, flunks this basic requirement."
The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Western Watersheds Project in a bid to protect greater sage grouse habitat, The Washington Post explained. The sage grouse, whose numbers have fallen from around 16 million to fewer than 500,000 because of disease and development, reflects the overall health of the Western sagebrush habitat that also houses hundreds of other species.
Bush's ruling tossed out five leases on more than 1,300 square miles — or more than 800,000 acres — of public lands in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, according to HuffPost and The Hill. However, it could have implications for around 67 million acres of sage grouse habitat in 11 Western states.
"This is an enormous victory for greater sage grouse and hundreds of other animals and plants that depend on this dwindling habitat," CBD senior campaigner Taylor McKinnon said in a press release. "The judge confirmed that it's illegal to silence the public to expand fossil-fuel extraction. It's a win for millions of acres of our beautiful public lands and a major blow to the Trump administration's corrupt efforts to serve corporate polluters."
The BLM said it was considering whether or not to appeal the ruling, according to The Washington Post. However, spokesperson Derrick Henry told The Washington Post that the agency remained committed to streamlining the leasing process.
"To do this, we have been working within our legal authorities to alleviate or eliminate unnecessary and burdensome regulations, while at the same time upholding public health and environmental protections, including sage-grouse conservation," Henry said.
However, environmental advocates have complained that, under the Trump administration, streamlining often comes at the expense of public participation. In one particularly ironic example last week, Democratic Congresspeople, activists and former government workers said that the White House's Council on Environmental Quality is making it harder to comment on its plans to restrict the National Environmental Policy Act, itself a law designed to give communities a say in projects that might impact their local ecosystems. However, Earthjustice attorney Drew Caputo told The Washington Post that the administration's attempts to work around public input also often ended up flouting the law, leading to court defeats like Thursday's.
"This administration has been relentless in its efforts to cut the public out of public lands decision-making, starting in 2018," Western Watersheds Project staff attorney Talasi Brooks said in a press release. "The court wasn't fooled by the agency's efforts to disguise its intention to provide greater influence to extractive energies, and the sage grouse and 350 other sagebrush-dependent species will benefit from today's win."
Correction. An earlier version of this article stated that a judge had banned oil and gas leases on nearly one million acres of public land. It has been updated to reflect the fact that he threw out existing leases rather than banning leasing generally.
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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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