Conservation and Tribal Citizen Groups Sue Trump Administration for Gutting BLM Waste Prevention Rule
A coalition of 17 conservation and tribal citizen groups filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the Trump administration's decision to gut the Bureau of Land Management's Waste Prevention Rule, stating that the rule violates a number of existing federal policies. The states of New Mexico and California have already filed a lawsuit challenging BLM's action.
"We are going to court on behalf of American taxpayers, public health and the planet," said Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney representing the groups. "The Trump administration is not above the law—Interior Secretary Zinke cannot yank away a common-sense rule that was the product of years of careful deliberation simply to appease his friends in the oil and gas industry."
The common sense rule updated nearly 40-year-old standards by implementing cost-effective measures to reduce wasteful venting, flaring and leaking of publicly owned natural gas from federal and tribal lands. However, the administration's revised shell of a rule fails to take reasonable precautions to prevent waste and protect the public welfare, illegally relying almost entirely on inadequate or nonexistent state regulations in place of federal standards.
BLM adopted the Waste Prevention Rule to address rampant waste of public resources. BLM's own estimates show that between 2009 and 2015 oil and gas companies wasted more than 462 billion cubic feet of natural gas, enough gas to supply more than 6.2 million households—or every household in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming—for one year.
As a result of BLM's actions eliminating those protections, oil and gas companies will now be allowed to vent, leak or flare $824 million worth of publicly owned natural gas into the air over the next decade. State, local and tribal taxpayers will lose millions of dollars of royalty payments.
"Secretary Zinke is rolling back a rule that required greater capture of natural gas and that the industry pay a royalty on gas that is vented to the atmosphere or otherwise wasted," said Rodger Steen, chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils' oil and gas campaign team. "Requiring royalty payment on wasted gas is one important reason why the 2016 rule is needed, but there are others. As the increasing scarcity of basic resources like clean water and old forests reminds us, we need to use our finite resources wisely and not waste them."
Moreover, according to BLM's own estimates, rescinding the Waste Prevention Rule will also result in the emissions of 180,000 tons of methane—a greenhouse gas 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide—every year. BLM's action also endangers communities' health by exposing them to dangerous smog-forming and carcinogenic air pollutants.
"The illogical and impulsive way in which the Interior Department conducted this completely unnecessary revision process once again showcases this administration's complete disregard for the American public and existing environmental protections," said Bruce Pendery, litigation and energy policy specialist at The Wilderness Society. "And while the administration will continue to proceed as if these policies don't exist, the fact remains that what they are doing is illegal and we will fight it."
The conservation and tribal citizen groups filed their lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District California, which has already struck down BLM's two prior attempts to roll back the Waste Prevention Rule. Earthjustice represents Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Western Organization of Resource Councils in the lawsuit.
"The federal government is not living up to its trust responsibility to tribal members of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota who are living every day with toxic air pollution, constant noise and flares lighting up the skies of our homeland," said Lisa DeVille, president of the Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights.
"The Trump administration has been relentless in its efforts to appease corporate polluters and roll back critical clean air standards," said Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. "Today we continue the fight in court to hold them accountable and protect our health, climate and communities from dangerous methane pollution."
Court Orders Trump Administration to Enforce Obama-Era Methane Rule https://t.co/F2Tdnnfi7k @NRDC @UCSUSA… https://t.co/5eyGWBRdKs— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1519411016.0
By Rebekah Ashley
Most Americans oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, a majority of us "strongly oppose it." This broad public concern echoed through the halls of Congress during Alaska Wilderness League's Wilderness Week, when more than 25 people from around the country (as far as Alaska and as young as six months) convened in Washington, DC, in late May to advocate for the protection of the Arctic Refuge. Collectively, our group met with more than 60 offices in just three days.
The experience reaffirmed our role in the lower 48, where even though our day-to-day existence is far removed from Arctic Alaska, we must stand for the protection of the Arctic Refuge and ask our representatives to do the same.
"An assault on one community is an assault on all of us," said Adrienne Titus, an Inupiat and a community organizer at Native Movement. "An assault on one tribe is an assault on all of them."
Wilderness Week participants were given an overview of the past year in activism—that is, the grassroots support that has ramped up across the country since the Arctic Refuge was opened for drilling including rallies, district office meetings, community events, letters to the editor and the collection of hundreds of thousands of public comments on the issue.
We also learned about recently introduced legislation to undo the GOP mandate to lease the Arctic Refuge for drilling. This bill is a reminder that there are people in Congress who have and will continue to listen to public concerns for indigenous rights and environmental protection. It is crucial that our congressional representatives hear from us if they have not already signed onto this important bill.
Rebekah Ashley (right) with her sister Elisabeth (center-right), Noa Banayan (Alaska Wilderness League, center-left) and Adrienne Titus (Native Movement, center-front)Alaska Wilderness League
Meeting Our Reps
To make sure that offices in both the House and Senate were hearing from constituents in the states they represent, Wilderness Week participants were divided up by geographic region. I was lucky to stand alongside my sister Elisabeth to represent New York, and we were joined by others from across the northeast. Lis and I built off our shared experiences in meetings with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's office and our representative Elise Stefanik (who we were able to flag in the hall and speak to directly). We also met with neighboring districts in upstate New York including offices for Reps. Claudia Tenney and Tom Reed, and other nearby states including Maine, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland.
"I cannot comprehend why something that would be looked at as inexcusable in one community could be put on another," Lis said as we wrapped up our meetings. And it's true, states in the lower 48 have opposed offshore drilling because of the irreversible effects drilling poses on communities, ecosystems and the already changing climate.
Public Forums and the Canadian Embassy
During our second day of meetings, Wilderness Week participants attended a forum by the Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee, led by Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-NM) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) focusing on the dangers of opening Alaska's Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Later on, we attended an event hosted by the Canadian Embassy highlighting Canada's ongoing support for the Arctic Refuge and protecting its coastal plain. Gwich'in villages stand throughout Alaska and Canada, and at the embassy Gwich'in representative Donetta Tritt spoke to the importance of the Porcupine Caribou Herd to the survival of the Gwich'in people, and Canadian leaders reaffirmed their commitment to stand in solidarity with the Gwich'in to protect the herd.
Representatives Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Raúl Grijalva (D-NM) and Niki Tsongas (D-MA) discuss the Arctic Refuge across from Donetta Tritt, Rebecca Goodstein, David Hayes and Jamie Rappaport Clark.Alaska Wilderness League
At the Canadian Embassy, Donetta Tritt of the Gwich'in explains the relationship the Gwich'in people have with the Arctic Refuge and the porcupine caribou.Alaska Wilderness League
Whether you're calling your members of Congress or speaking to them in their congressional offices, these steps can seem small compared to the challenges we're up against. That's why Wilderness Week was an amazing chance to connect with people from the broader community who are also committed to protecting the Arctic Refuge. It was also an opportunity to learn about the issue from those who have experienced it firsthand. While we still have a long way to go, people like those I met at Wilderness Week make the journey worthwhile.
The BLM Public Hearing
Several weeks later, I traveled back to DC with folks from my local community, including more of my family, to attend the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) only public hearing on Arctic Refuge leasing not being held in Alaska. This event allowed the broader public to share testimony and express their concerns about the leasing process for the Arctic Refuge directly to a panel representing BLM.
A packed house was on hand in DC, the only public hearing on Arctic Refuge leasing being held outside of Alaska. Alaska Wilderness League
Outside of the hearing, a rally took place where hundreds of people lined the streets in opposition to BLM. Many of those who weren't fortunate enough to secure a spot testifying at the hearing shared their story at the rally instead. Wendy Hall from the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge shared her opposition for oil development in the Arctic Refuge because of the impacts it will have on global ecosystems and contribution to climate change.
My mother, Sandra Ashley, a teacher's aide at Lake Placid Middle School, gave testimony about the destructive message that drilling in the Arctic Refuge will send to her students and shared essays on their behalf that underscored the concerns that children feel for protecting wildlife.
Another friend of ours, Craig Stevens, a sixth generation land owner from Montrose, PA, held up a bottle of contaminated water from a sink in Pennsylvania during his testimony to remind the BLM how extractive industries can have an impact on our communities.
And Garett Reppenhagen of Vet Voice Foundation, a veteran of deployments in Kosovo and Iraq, shared his story about using outdoor therapy to help in the recovery process for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Garett Reppenhagen of Vet Voice Foundation describes his experiences in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Alaska Wilderness League
By the time the hearing came to a close it was after dark. BLM had heard countless concerns for protecting wildlife and fragile ecosystems, mitigating climate change impacts, standing up for indigenous cultures, and more. It was a reminder that Americans overwhelmingly oppose oil development in the Arctic Refuge, and instead believe this area must be protected once and for all.
Investors Controlling $2.5 Trillion Stand With Indigenous People Against Trump Plan to Drill 'Sacred' Arctic Refuge… https://t.co/ggRjhskZaM— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1526421606.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
The memo released by the Bureau of Land Management states that it seeks to "simplify and streamline the leasing process to alleviate unnecessary impediments and burdens ... to ensure quarterly oil and gas lease sales are consistently held."
The directive issues several new guidelines to shorten the timeline for drilling, including requiring all lease sales to be processed within a 60-day period, allowing formerly mandatory public participation in lease reviews to be left to the discretion of lower-level field officials, and shortening the public protest period on lease sales to 10 days. The memo was issued one day before the Interior Department opened leasing and mining on the recently-reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears monuments in Utah.
As reported by the Washington Post:
"The Wilderness Society pointed out that oil and gas companies owned leases on 15 million acres before 2017, with thousands of drilling permits they haven't used.
'Today's announced sweeping change to BLM's oil and gas leasing program threatens irreplaceable federal public lands and resources in Utah and across the West,' said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Wilderness Alliance. He called it a 'lease first, think later' policy that is 'fundamentally inconsistent with federal laws that demand agencies think before they act and consider the full range of impacts from selling oil and gas leases.'
Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that it is 'deeply disturbing that the Trump administration wants to give fossil fuel companies free rein over our public lands, without community input or disclosing environmental harms.' The changes announced won't speed up oil and gas leasing, Saul predicted. 'They'll result in rushed, ill-considered, illegal decisions that will be overturned in court.'"
'Outrageous' Gold Rush-Style Grab of Public Lands to Begin Friday https://t.co/tH0UHfq1c3 @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine @foe_us— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517523008.0
For a deeper dive:
by Jessica Corbett
Despite protests from conservationists, local tribe leaders, Democratic lawmakers and even the United Nations' expert on Indigenous rights, at 6 a.m. on Friday the Trump administration will allow citizens and companies to start staking claims on sections of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah so the new stakeholders can conduct hard rock mining on the formerly protected lands.
"It is outrageous to witness the dismantling of the Bears Ears national monument, in what constitutes a serious attack on Indigenous peoples' rights in the United States," said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Tauli-Corpuz noted that the previous administration's decision to create the monument "protected thousands of sacred sites which are central to the preservation of regional Native culture." He warned that Trump's decision to reduce Bears Ears by about 85 percent "exposes thousands of acres of sacred lands and archaeological sites to the threats of desecration, contamination and permanent destruction."
Critics have turned to social media to denounce the "modern land run."
"Diminishing the size of the monument puts hundreds of archeological and cultural sites at risk, and threatens our… https://t.co/dB0j1HNxsI— Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (@Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition)1517321389.0
RT to #SaveGrandStaircase & #StandWithBearsEars! Proclamations dismantling #MonumentsForAll allow for more mining &… https://t.co/JAdjqLl7xK— Monuments For All (@Monuments For All)1516730547.0
In response to the attacks on public lands and a proposal from Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) that purports to give management control of the remaining land to Indigenous leaders—who said the measure "is tribal in name only"—a group of Democratic senators has introduced a bill to fight back against Trump and Republicans in Congress:
We’re introducing the #ANTIQUITIESActOf2018 today to protect our #MonumentsForAll from the Trump administration’s u… https://t.co/yuTRVHKdrV— Tom Udall (@Tom Udall)1517340647.0
Pres Trump’s move to eliminate 2M acres of protections for #BearsEars & Grand-Staircase Escalante is largest attack… https://t.co/Se3noZUDlM— Martin Heinrich (@Martin Heinrich)1517428355.0
In spite of widespread opposition, the Trump administration's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to move forward with allowing stakeholders to claim plots of land on Friday, and has determined the process will be governed by the General Mining Law of 1872, which covers mining for metals such as copper, gold, silver and uranium (but not coal and petroleum).
"The process for staking a claim remains much as it did during the Gold Rush," Reuters reported:
A prospector hammers four poles into the ground corresponding to the four points of a parcel that can be as big as 20 acres, and attaches a written description of the claim onto one of them. A prospector then has 30 days to record the claim at the local BLM office ...
The costs of claiming are low: a $212 filing fee, and an annual maintenance fee of $150. Unlike laws governing petroleum extraction, there are no environmental guidelines specific to hard rock mining, and no requirement to pay a royalty. The claims provide prospectors mineral rights but not ownership of the land.
Lauren Pagel, the policy director of the nonprofit Earthworks, criticized the law as outdated, telling Reuters, "It's really the last law still on the books from that Manifest Destiny era encouraging a resources free-for-all."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Reno, the Associated Press reported. It claims that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws by approving the removal of nearly 10,000 mustangs over 10 years in a 4,900-square-mile expanse of federal rangeland near the Nevada-Utah border.
Michael Harris, director of the group's Wildlife Law Program in Colorado, said the roundups could occur without public notice or comment and without site-specific analysis of each individual gather.
The "roundup decision is unprecedented in size and scope," the suit states, and would allow BLM to "continually roundup, remove, drug and castrate wild horses for 10 years after the initial roundup."
Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral told the AP that castration puts male horses at risk of hemorrhaging and infection, and those that survive the process "will be robbed of their natural behaviors, putting them at a disadvantage on the range in terms of survival."
"This is the definition of animal cruelty," Feral added. "These are wild animals, not domesticated dogs and cats."
Slaughter of 90,000 Wild Horses Could Proceed Despite 80% Objection From American Public https://t.co/OXR9irDWrB @foe_us @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1511045108.0
BLM District Manager Jill Silvey authorized the gathers in December.
"Native vegetative communities in parts of the complexes have already crossed critical ecological thresholds that could prevent or significantly slow their recovery," she said at the time. "This resource degradation and potential for irreversible ecological damage will continue without immediate action to remove excess wild horses and to bring the wild horse population back to (appropriate management levels.)"
But the group contends that the roundups are based on outdated population targets adopted in management plans that have not been updated for more than a decade.
Wild Horses Under Siege on Public Lands https://t.co/5NSBGDDwBd @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1488841225.0
Conservation and health-safety groups filed suit on Tuesday in federal court challenging the Trump administration's approval of an enormous groundwater-mining and pipeline project in Southern California. The Cadiz water project, approved without environmental review, includes the construction of a pipeline through the Mojave Trails National Monument and other public lands in the area.
Tuesday's lawsuit notes that the Trump administration reversed two Obama administration decisions and wrongly concluded that the Cadiz project's 43-mile pipeline did not require any federal Bureau of Land Management permits or approvals. The BLM is allowing the developer to build the pipeline within an existing railroad right-of-way, paving the way for Cadiz to pump 16 billion gallons of water a year from the fragile desert aquifer to sprawling new developments in Southern California.
"The Cadiz project will suck the desert dry while developers count their money," said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's an unsustainable water-privatization scheme. Pumping ancient groundwater from the Mojave Desert to water suburban lawns in Orange County will devastate desert wildlife and the entire ecosystem relying on that water for survival."
If allowed to move forward, the Cadiz water-mining project would drain life-giving springs in the Mojave Trails National Monument and surrounding public lands, killing vegetation and destroying key habitat for a host of desert wildlife, including the threatened desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, Mojave fringe-toed lizards and kit foxes. Hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey determined that the Cadiz project is unsustainable and that the company's privately funded study vastly overstates the aquifer's recharge rate.
"The Trump administration's approval of the Cadiz project is crony capitalism at its worst," said Adam Keats, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety. "So much life relies on this precious desert groundwater, yet under Trump apparently the only thing that matters is how much money you have and who your friends are in government."
The project's approval followed the appointment of David Bernhardt, a deputy Interior Department secretary and former lobbyist for Cadiz. Bernhardt's former employer, the Washington-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, continues to represent Cadiz.
"Cadiz, Inc. is just another corporation looking to profit by selling off an irreplaceable public resource," said Greg Loarie, an attorney at Earthjustice who is representing the groups filing suit. "The Trump administration would love to give Cadiz a free pass around our environmental laws, but we're not going to let that happen."
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety have also filed public records requests for documents that could shed light on the Trump administration's abrupt decision to allow the Cadiz project to move forward.
In addition to Earthjustice, the groups are represented by Adam Keats at the Center for Food Safety and Aruna Prabhala and Lisa Belenky at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The American Wild Horse Campaign on Thursday harshly criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's appointment of Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as dangerous and out of step with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.
"Rep. Stewart is leading the charge to slaughter America's wild horses and burros over the opposition of 80 percent of Americans," said Suzanne Roy, AWHC Executive Director. "Putting his deputy at the helm of the agency charged with protecting these national icons is like putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop."
"Americans don't want the government to be in the horse slaughter business, and Interior Secretary Zinke should appoint someone to lead the Bureau of Land Management who is committed to protecting, not destroying, America's historic mustangs," Roy concluded.
Roy added that the long-term leadership for this agency, which manages 245 million acres of public land in the West, should be determined through a full and transparent confirmation process, not a late-in-the-day political appointment by the secretary.
In July, the U.S. House of Representatives issued what AWHC called a "death warrant" when it passed the "Stewart Amendment" to a 2018 spending bill that would allow for the destruction of wild horses and burros the BLM considers to be surplus. The Senate has yet to weigh in on the subject, but if it concurs, the amendment could lead to the killing of more than 90,000 wild horses on the range and in holding facilities.
Brutal Outlook for Healthy Wild Horses and Burros: BLM Calls for Shooting 90,000 https://t.co/ePTwoYrYhJ @greenpeaceusa @foe_us— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508539808.0
Stewart and Zinke are pushing for the destruction of America's mustangs to appease the special interest livestock lobby, which views wild horses as competition for cheap taxpayer subsidized grazing on public lands. (Public lands ranchers pay $1.87 per animal per month to graze livestock on public lands while the going rate for private land grazing in the West is $22.60.)
Livestock industry groups like the National Cattleman's Association are lobbying for the killing and slaughter of wild horses and burros on public lands even though 80 percent of BLM land grazed by livestock has no wild horses present on it.
AWHC is calling on Congress to reject the Stewart amendment in favor of appropriations language that would require the BLM to use non-lethal birth control to manage America's wild herds, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. The Senate is expected to release its 2018 Interior Appropriations bill later this month.
Massive Fracking on Nevada Public Lands Sought by Trump Administration, Conservation Groups Launch Legal Protest
Three conservation groups filed an administrative protest Monday against an enormous Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction, scheduled for Dec. 12, that would allow fracking on more than 600 square miles of Nevada public lands. The 388,000 acres in eastern Nevada includes important regional springs and groundwater and critical habitat for imperiled species.
The protest—filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, WildLands Defense and Basin and Range Watch—says the BLM has violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act by failing to analyze the risks of drilling for oil and fracking with dangerous chemicals on such a massive scale. Development of these parcels, one of the largest fracking plans in the country, could contaminate ground and surface water, threaten endangered species and cause irreparable harm to the global climate.
"The Trump administration is putting some of Nevada's most critical water supplies at risk of fracking pollution by auctioning off this public land to oil companies," said Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity's Nevada state director. "This plan reeks of callous disregard for our state's water and wildlife. Trump's BLM is flagrantly violating our nation's environmental laws to line the pockets of the fossil-fuel industry. "
Mountain lion in the BLM Ely districtJani Ahlvers / BLM Nevada / Flickr
Regulations require the BLM to fully analyze and disclose harm from any federal actions, including developing public land for oil and gas extraction. Instead, BLM dismisses as "speculative" the possibility that drilling and fracking would damage Nevada's precious water resources.
Nevada hydrologist Tom Myers analyzed the effects of drilling and fracking in the sensitive groundwater basins of eastern Nevada. Myers concluded that "fracking development in the proposed lease area threatens the hydrogeology of the area, including regional springs and intermittent and perennial streams; potential impacts include both contamination and depletion of flow."
"Fracking on our public lands could contaminate Nevada's precious groundwater and dry up vital springs and creeks," said Katie Fite, director of public lands for WildLands Defense. "Before they auction off our lands to the highest bidder, the BLM is legally required to be honest with the public about the effects of fracking on our water and climate."
In addition to jeopardizing water resources, the proposed lease auction includes lands designated as protected critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise, Nevada's state reptile.
"The BLM is proposing to auction off some of the best tortoise habitat in Nevada, which could help drive this vulnerable creature to extinction," said Laura Cunningham, executive director of Basin and Range Watch. "The agency is flagrantly ignoring the Endangered Species Act by allowing this sale to proceed."
In September, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against a BLM Nevada oil and gas lease auction in the Battle Mountain District.
"We won't let the BLM sell off our public lands without a fight," said Donnelly. "We must hold this administration accountable for protecting our waters, wildlife and climate."
On Thursday, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recklessly voted to approve recommendations that call on the Bureau of Land Management to shoot tens of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros.
At its meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado, the advisory board recommended that BLM achieve its on-range population goal of 26,715 wild horses and burros while also phasing out the use of long-term holding facilities—both within three years.
If Congress allowed BLM to follow through on the independent board's recommendations, that would mean the government shooting at least 90,000 healthy animals. The advisory board has no power to control policy.
The board also called for allowing international adoptions and sales, which have not been allowed before. During its deliberations, the board repeatedly referenced a proposal made by a private party to have American taxpayers pay to ship upwards of 20,000 wild horses to Russia—where they would serve as prey animals for big cats.
"Killing tens of thousands of wild horses and burros would be a betrayal of millions of taxpayers who want wild horses protected as intended in the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and who have invested tens of millions of dollars in their care," said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation.
"BLM has been tasked by Congress with the responsibility of protecting wild horses. The agency has failed over and over, wasting time on think tanks, challenge concepts and meetings that go nowhere instead of directing resources toward actually managing land, water and habitat on the range and building a robust volunteer effort to help with critical projects benefiting wild horses and other wildlife."
BLM has been close to its Appropriate Management Level before, but the agency balked at using fertility control despite ample evidence that it was safe and effective. The number of wild horses on the range stood within 1,071 animals of BLM's own population goal in 2007, yet even then the agency chose not to aggressively implement fertility control.
In fact, BLM has never spent as much as four percent of its Wild Horse & Burro Program budget on this safe, proven and humane solution for wild horse population control; instead, it spends upwards of 65 percent of its annual budget capturing, removing and warehousing animals.
Return to Freedom's American Wild Horse Sanctuary was among the first of many projects to use fertility control with great success. It has used the vaccine PZP for 19 years with an efficacy rate of 91 to 98 percent.
Meanwhile, wild horses continue to be dramatically outnumbered on federal land by privately owned livestock, which graze there at a fraction of the cost that ranchers would pay on private property.
"A balance must be struck between ranching and mining interests and wild horses and other wildlife as part of a fair interpretation of BLM's multiple-use mandate on the range," said DeMayo. "There needs to be a fairer distribution of resources—not more biased reports and recommendations aimed at capturing, removing or killing wild horses.
"BLM and the U.S. Department of the Interior must stop catering to those who profit from public lands and manage them for all Americans. It is time to stop treating America's wild horses and burros like an unwanted invasive species and start becoming real stewards by using the safe, proven and humane tools available, in keeping with the spirit of the Act and the will of the public."
Polls have repeatedly shown that about 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter and a similar percentage want to see wild horses protected.
A March 1 BLM estimate—made before this year's foal crop—placed the on-range population of wild horses and burros at 72,674. As of August, the agency reported that 44,640 captured wild horses and burros were living in off-range facilities, including 32,146 on leased pastures referred to as long-term holding.
On Thursday, wild horse advocate Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation was the lone dissenting vote on recommendations that BLM achieve "Appropriate Management Level" of 26,715 in three years, close long-term holding in three years, and allow international sales and adoptions. She joined the others on the board in voting to recommend that BLM increase its funding of reversible fertility control to $3 million by fiscal year 2019, up from about $100,000 in 2017.
Kathrens noted that BLM's arbitrarily set Appropriate Management Level is only about 1,000 wild horses and burros more than the estimated population at the time of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed. The law—which Congress passed unanimously—stated that wild horses and burros were "fast disappearing from the American scene."
The advisory board's recommendation would have BLM spend money saved on long-term holding on on-range management and increasing adoptions. Those adoptions would likely spare only a fraction of wild horses on the range or in holding from death. In 2017, BLM has adopted out only about 4,200 wild horses—its best total in years.
In September 2016, the advisory board voted to recommend destroying captive wild horses and removing all restrictions to their sale, which would allow buyers to purchase them on the cheap and transport them to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. Again, Kathrens was the lone "no" vote.
In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill that removed language that would bar BLM from killing healthy wild horses. The Senate Appropriations Committee could vote on its version of the Interior bill as soon as next week.
"It will take time, commitment and diligence—and a real plan—but we have science that clearly shows the path to a sustainable future for wild horses and burros," DeMayo said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but it must be done and it must start now. The American people need to rally and urge Congress to force BLM to humanely manage these iconic, federally protected animals on the range."
Oil and gas operations near residential areas in Colorado. Chris Schneider / Earthjustice
By Jessica A. Knoblauch
Delays of critical environmental protections have become a familiar tactic from federal agencies, as the Trump administration takes marching orders from polluting industries that want to unravel Obama-era regulations.
The courts, however, have proven to be a powerful tool in pushing back on Trump's delay tactics. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court blocked Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from delaying new rules on methane, a potent greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide that happens to be the primary component of natural gas. Monday's lawsuit targets a similar request to delay methane regulations, this time by the BLM.
"No matter how badly the Trump administration wants to dismantle important protections for our air and climate adopted during the Obama administration, they must follow the law," said Earthjustice attorney Joel Minor, who is working on the EPA and BLM methane cases. "They're taking shortcuts in each case. But the courts are going to hold them accountable."
The EPA and BLM methane rules both require oil and gas companies to capture their methane emissions. In May 2016, the EPA put federal safeguards in place to limit the amount of methane pollution from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry. Months later, the BLM finalized a waste prevention rule that requires oil and gas companies to reduce venting, flaring and leaks from both new and existing operations on public and tribal lands. Together these crucial protections reduce smog, air toxics and climate pollution—protecting public health and future generations.
The new rules also could bring millions of dollars into the public coffers as drilling companies must pay royalties when they extract gas from public lands and burn methane. Without the rules, oil and gas companies have been venting or flaring more than 15,000 metric tons of methane from publicly-owned oil and gas leases into the air each year—essentially tossing taxpayer money into the air. The rule will prevent oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands from wasting 41 billion cubic feet of natural gas each year through leaks, venting and flaring—enough to power supply 740,000 households for a year.
Despite widespread support for these commonsense rules, including from states like California and New Mexico, the new administration is now attempting to delay and rescind them. In January, the BLM's methane rule went into effect after Earthjustice successfully defeated attempts by several states and oil and gas industry groups tried to overturn it in court. In May, the same industry groups tasted failure again after the Senate rejected attempts to overturn the rule using an anti-democratic ploy known as the Congressional Review Act. In the July ruling on the EPA rule, a federal appeals court called the administration's actions to delay the rule "unreasonable," "arbitrary" and "capricious."
Undeterred—and prodded by the fossil fuel industry during talks with Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke in May—the Trump administration is taking one more shot at delaying methane regulations. This time, it is using delay—the same tactic it used unsuccessfully with the EPA rule—for the BLM rule.
We're not so sure about the efficacy of reusing a losing strategy. Regardless, Earthjustice will be fighting the administration's efforts in court, alongside a broad coalition of tribal and environmental groups, to uphold this commonsense measure. Stay tuned.
In a win Wednesday for oil and gas-patch communities and taxpayers, a procedural vote failed in the Senate, preventing a Congressional Review Act resolution from nullifying the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Methane Waste Rule. The vote to proceed to debate on the resolution failed, 49–51. This rule is a common sense standard to limit wasteful methane pollution from oil and gas operations on public lands.
The Congressional Review Act is a controversial and anti-democratic tactic that anti-environmental extremists in Congress attempted to use to push this pro-polluter agenda item forward.
"Just when we thought all hope was lost, common sense prevailed today in the United States Congress," Jessica Ennis, Earthjustice senior legislative representative, said.
"By preserving this win-win rule that protects public health and saves taxpayers money at the same time, Congress is managing to slowly rebuild its credibility as an institution that can serve as a check against powerful corporate interests."
Each year, oil and gas companies leak or deliberately vent millions of tons of methane, a potent climate pollutant, into the atmosphere during oil and gas operations. Methane pollution from these operations not only speeds-up global warming, but is often accompanied by toxic air pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde and ethylbenzene, threatening the health of residents who live nearby.
To address this problem, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently finalized a waste prevention rule, which reduces methane pollution and enjoys wide public support; in a poll out earlier this year, 81 percent of Western voters surveyed said they supported leaving the BLM methane rule in place.
Fifty-one senators voted in accordance with their constituents wishes. Among those Westerners who support the methane pollution safeguard is Bob Arrington, a native born Coloradoan whose first job out of the University of Colorado was designing air pollution control equipment for industrial, chemical and power plants. Now living in Battlement Mesa, he puts his years of expertise to use—working to protect himself and his community from methane and other air pollution from nearby oil and gas operations.
"We are surrounded in all directions by Bureau of Land Management land and the oil and gas activities on those lands have direct consequences on our air quality," said Arrington.
"They're saying they can't, but it absolutely can be done better and with cost recoveries."
The BLM rule requires oil and gas companies to reduce venting, flaring and leaks from industry operations on public lands. Without the rule in place, taxpayers could lose out on $800 million in royalties over the next decade because of venting and flaring natural gas alone, according to a Western Values Project Report.
The documents, including a "BLM Priority Work" list accompanying talking points memo, were drafted by BLM administrators and have been reviewed by Trump transition team members, but have not yet been circulated to staff.
While wind and solar development earn small mentions, the documents emphasize main goals of making more federal lands available for energy development and streamlining leases and permits for oil, gas, coal and hardrock mining projects.
The draft priority work list under the "Making America Safe through Energy Independence" includes:
- Make additional lands available for "all of the above" energy development
- Address backlog of Applications for Permit to Drill (APDs) and Expressions of Interest (EOIs)
- Streamline Federal coal leasing and permitting, and address backlog
- Streamline oil and gas leasing and permitting
- Streamline rights-of-way processing for pipelines, transmission lines and solar/wind projects
- Streamline leasing and permitting for hardrock mining
The priority list was "assembled by the team at the BLM to clearly lay out our continued commitment to ensure opportunities for commercial, recreation and conservation activities on BLM-managed lands," Megan Crandall, an agency spokeswoman, told E&E News in an email.
"No one voted to pollute our public lands, air or drinking water in the last election, yet the Trump administration is doing the bidding of powerful polluters as nearly its first order of business," Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine said after Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke ordered the lifting a moratorium on federal coal leasing. A coalition of groups, including Earthjustice, are suing the Trump administration over the order, which opens tens of thousands of acres of public lands to the coal industry.
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