BILLINGS, Mont. — A U.S. federal court once again blocked new oil and gas drilling permits on Wyoming public lands in a ruling Friday that rebuked the Trump administration for its “sloppy and rushed” analysis of climate change impacts.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said the administration’s Bureau of Land Management failed to look closely enough at climate change impacts from oil and gas extraction and consumption on almost 500 square miles (1,295 sq. kilometers) of land in Wyoming.
Contreras first blocked drilling on the parcels in 2019, saying the bureau needed to consider greenhouse gas emissions from fuels extracted on public lands in the past, present and foreseeable future, including in neighboring states such as Colorado and Utah.
In Friday’s ruling, he said the land bureau’s latest effort to tally up the impact of those emissions had again failed and “does not adequately consider the climate change impacts of the oil and gas leasing decisions.”
The judge pointed to numerous flaws in the bureau’s climate change assessment such as failing to consider the cumulative impacts of multiple lease sales over time. He also highlighted simple math errors by officials that taken together “suggests a sloppy and rushed process” lacking scientific accuracy.
The ruling marks the latest in a string of court actions over the past decade that have faulted the U.S. for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal land.
The case involving the Wyoming parcels originated with leases that were sold in 2015 and 2016, under President Barack Obama.
Land bureau spokesperson Richard Packer said the agency’s leasing decisions were “based on the best available science.” He said that the agency would continue pushing Trump’s agenda supporting domestic energy production, but declined to answer whether government attorneys will appeal Friday’s decision.
President-elect Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters.
Environmentalist Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups that sued over the Wyoming leases, said the latest ruling underscores the need for the incoming administration to reform government oil and gas sales.
“The oil and gas leasing program is a train wreck right now. They keep losing in court because they don’t want to acknowledge science and facts and the reality of climate change,” he said.
Companies pay billions of dollars annually to produce oil, gas and coal from federal lands and waters. The money is split between the federal government and states where the extraction occurs.
Extracting and burning fossil fuels from federal land generates the equivalent of 1.4 billion tons (1.3 billion metric tons) annually of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s equivalent to almost one-quarter of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
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