Federal Plan Threatens Land, Water, Wildlife and Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Carbon Dioxide Nears Dangerous 400 ppm Milestone
A coalition of conservation groups today filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management under the Endangered Species Act for allocating more than 800,000 acres of federal public land in the Colorado River Basin to greenhouse-gas-intensive oil shale and tar-sands development without protecting endangered species and their habitat.
“Large-scale strip mining of the dirtiest kinds of fossil fuels is neither safe nor sustainable public policy,” said Taylor McKinnon, director of energy with Grand Canyon Trust. “This plan threatens to industrialize backcountry, pollute air and water, destroy habitat, and commit the Colorado River Basin to an even drier future.”
“The Colorado River has nothing left to give, and it’s not in the public interest to allow water guzzling mining projects to mangle and pollute the productivity of this vital watershed any further,” said John Weisheit, Living Rivers’ conservation director.
“Leasing for oil shale and tar sands is just a bad idea,” said Steve Bloch, Litigation Director at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Development of these leases presents a threat to wilderness areas on the Colorado Plateau. Development would also further degrade the region’s air quality, harm native ecosystems, and exacerbate the harmful impacts that we’re already seeing from climate change.”
On March 22 the BLM amended 10 resource management plans in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, making 687,600 acres available for oil shale leasing and 132,100 acres available for tar-sands leasing. The BLM refused to conduct formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species despite acknowledging likely impacts to Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, Mexican spotted owl and many other threatened and endangered species.
“Strip mining of our public lands will push endangered species closer to extinction,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “BLM should be working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve species, not furthering their demise on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.”
Extracting oil shale and tar sands is an energy-intensive process of strip mining, melting, and chemically separating oil from sand and rock. Strip mining would destroy vast tracts of land and habitat and mobilize toxins threatening watersheds of the Colorado River and its tributaries.
“Our public lands should be managed to protect our air, water and wildlife, not auctioned off for dirty and destructive fossil fuel development that will push us ever closer to climate disaster,” said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The BLM’s decision comes as atmospheric CO2 concentrations approach 400 parts per million, a milestone in human history. Greenhouse gas emissions resulting from oil shale and tar sands development in the Colorado River Basin would far exceed that of conventional oil. For example, emissions from Alberta’s tar sands development exceed that of conventional oil by several times.
“The BLM should be managing these wild areas for the rich wildlife diversity they provide,” said Eric Huber, Sierra Club senior managing attorney, “not for dirty fuels development on a giant scale.”
Groups filing today’s notice are Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club.
To download a copy of today’s notice, click here (opens in PDF).