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By Anne Hedges

In early September, MEIC achieved two terrific legal victories on oil and gas development. Since these are late-breaking court decisions, we will keep this brief. 

You may recall that in 2020, MEIC, WildEarth Guardians and three landowners were victorious in a challenge to the federal Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) issuance of two oil and gas lease sales in 2017 and 2018. In that instance, the court agreed that BLM failed to consider potential impacts to water resources and the climate from drilling and burning fossil fuels on 287 leases. While that court case was proceeding, the BLM issued five quarterly oil and gas lease sales on public lands in Montana and North Dakota from July 2019 through September 2020. After the first court victory, the coalition grew and a larger group of organizations joined in challenging BLM’s subsequent lease sales, raising similar concerns about the impacts to water resources and the climate. After dragging its feet for over a year, the BLM finally agreed to settle our second case and conduct the required analysis to protect public lands, the climate, and water resources. The settlement was submitted to Federal District Court in Great Falls for approval on September 6. MEIC was represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice.

The other victory comes after a long and convoluted legal history. When Pres. Joe Biden came into office in 2021, he issued a “pause” on onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing on public lands until the administration could evaluate the economic and climate impacts associated with the federal leasing program. Almost immediately, the oil and gas industry and conservative states filed five separate lawsuits, alleging various legal issues with Pres. Biden’s “pause.” Back in 2021, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that Pres. Biden’s leasing pause was illegal. This past August, however, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, stating that the lower court judge had failed to justify his decision. Within 24 hours, the lower court judge issued a second decision against the leasing pause, again without a legal rationale. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Wyoming issued a decision in a separate case on Sept. 2 upholding Pres. Biden’s decision to issue the “pause,” finding that there was “substantial evidence in the record” to support the decision. MEIC, along with a long list of other environmental groups, had intervened in the Wyoming case (the judge would not allow us to intervene in the Louisiana case). MEIC was represented by the Western Environmental Law Center. What happens now is anyone’s guess, but hopefully the Biden Administration will fully analyze the oil and gas leasing program and live up to his campaign promise to tackle the climate crisis. Minimizing emissions of the super potent greenhouse gas methane emanating from oil and gas wells would be a good start.


This article was published in the September 2022 issue of Down To Earth. 

Read the full issue here.


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