November 3, 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New Lawsuit Targets 145 Trump-Era Oil and Gas Leases on Utah’s Public Lands
Leases Threaten Climate, the White River, and Sensitive Habitats for Greater Sage-Grouse and Graham’s and White River Beardtongue
Landon Newell, Staff Attorney, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), (801) 428-3991, (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Hanna Larsen, Staff Attorney Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), (801) 428-3992, (email@example.com)
Salt Lake City, UT – Today, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) filed a federal lawsuit challenging four decisions by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2018-19 to issue 145 oil and gas leases encompassing 215,325 acres of public land in Utah. The leases are located in eastern Utah, primarily in the Book Cliffs and Uinta Basin.
“The Trump administration’s BLM closely followed the playbook of how to make an uninformed and unlawful leasing decision,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with SUWA. “That administration’s ‘lease first, think later’ approach to fossil fuel development blanketed Utah’s public lands with leases—threatening some of our nation’s wildest places, water resources, and critically important habitat for plants and wildlife.”
The lawsuit aims to protect some of Utah’s wildest public lands, including important habitat for the imperiled greater sage-grouse (a bird) as well as Graham’s and White River beardtongue (flowering plants). Many of the leases are located near the White River—a remote, scenic tributary to the Green River, which cuts a rugged path into the high desert plains of the Uinta Basin. The BLM refers to the White River as a “floater’s and paddler’s paradise,” and a recent feature article said: “From the water, the White River canyon was a scene worthy of Ansel Adams.”
The BLM’s leasing decisions at issue did not fully analyze and disclose the foreseeable impacts to this landscape as required by law. All of the leases were approved during the Trump administration as part of its so-called “energy dominance” agenda. That agenda sought to lease as many public lands as possible for oil and gas development, as quickly as possible, and with as little public involvement and environmental analysis as possible.
But those rushed and poorly analyzed leasing decisions have consistently—and with few exceptions—been held to be unlawful by federal courts. As a result, millions of acres of Trump-era leases have been canceled (see here and here) and thousands of other leases suspended or forced to be re-examined by the BLM (see here).
“Development of these leases was not and is not in the public interest,” said Hanna Larsen, staff attorney with SUWA. “The climate crisis has arrived. The extinction crisis is ongoing and worsening. Both are driven in large part by the BLM’s broken and outdated oil and gas program. If we are to avoid the worst outcomes of a rapidly changing climate, we must quickly transition away from fossil fuel leasing and development.”
The Biden administration inherited an environmental and legal mess; they have revoked and rescinded all aspects of the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda as contrary to federal laws and principles of informed agency decision-making. Additionally, the Interior Department has recognized that the program under which the BLM sold the leases at issue in this lawsuit“fail[ed] to provide a fair return to taxpayers . . . inadequately account[ed] for environmental harms to lands, waters, and other resources . . . [and] foster[ed] speculation by oil and gas companies to the detriment of competition and American consumers.”
This lawsuit seeks to have the court cancel the BLM’s leasing decisions and prohibit the agency from approving future oil and gas development on the leases. In recent years, SUWA has had numerous successes in defending Utah’s wild public lands from fossil fuel development. These include:
- Since 2019, SUWA has filed three lawsuits in federal court challenging BLM leasing decisions. These challenges forced the BLM to suspend hundreds of oil and gas leases so that the agency could reanalyze and disclose the environmental impacts of offering those leases for development.
- Since 2017, SUWA has successfully challenged the BLM’s approval of more than 200 drilling permits. These victories protected wilderness-caliber lands in the Desolation Canyon region, near Dinosaur National Monument, atop the West Tavaputs Plateau, and in the southern Uinta Basin (more information can be found here and here).
- SUWA fought off attempts by the Trump administration to offer leases for development at the doorstep of Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Parks, and near Bears Ears and Dinosaur National Monuments.
- SUWA successfully challenged the Biden administration’s June 2022 lease sale, which resulted in the BLM canceling that sale.
Media Resources, including a map of the lease sales and photos of the potentially impacted landscapes, can be found here.