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Feds Targeted by Dueling Energy Lawsuits

Oil and gas development on public lands is the subject of two recent lawsuits against the federal government, one by environmentalists and another by the energy industry.

Environmentalists have launched a new campaign against climate change. They’re trying to slow oil and gas development on public lands just as the energy industry is trying to get the federal government to step it up.

In a federal lawsuit by WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, the groups say the U-S Bureau of Land Management overlooked climate change when it awarded hundreds of energy leases in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. The 397 leases span nearly 380,000 acres.

Credit Courtesy: / WildEarth Guardians
WildEarth Guardians
The environmentalist lawsuit targets these oil and gas leases (in red) in Utah.

  “If all we’re going to do is continue to let the oil and gas industry lease as much as it wants, drill and frack as much as it wants -- and put as much carbon in the atmosphere as it wants -- we’re never going to be able to develop the solutions we need to move on from oil and gas,” says Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy director with WildEarth Guardians.

The groups want the Interior Department to pause activity on the contested leases, then review the climate impacts of oil and gas development on public lands.

Their lawsuit comes two weeks after the Western Energy Alliance started its own legal action against the Interior Department. The trade group contends environmentalists are making the BLM break the law by skipping quarterly oil and gas lease sales.

“The keep-it-in-the-ground movement is trying to coerce BLM into violating the law,” said Kathleen Sgamma, WEA’s director of government and public relations, at the time that suit was filed. “Who needs loud protests when bureaucrats are simply doing the same thing by not doing their jobs?”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has called climate change a threat to public lands, and she’s ordered reviews of many energy programs her department oversees.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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