In November, SUWA filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging four Trump-era oil and gas leasing decisions. The lawsuit involves 145 leases encompassing more than 225,000 acres of public land, primarily in eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs and Uinta Basin regions. With the suit, SUWA seeks to protect some of Utah’s wildest public land, including important habitat for the imperiled greater sage-grouse as well as Graham’s and White River beardtongue (flowering plants). Many of the leases are near the White River, a remote and scenic tributary to the Green River which cuts a rugged path into the high desert plains of the Uinta Basin.
The challenged leasing decisions were approved during the Trump administration, pursuant to its ill-conceived “energy dominance” agenda. That agenda entailed leasing as much public land as possible for oil and gas development, as quickly as possible, and with as little public involvement and environmental analysis as possible. Not surprisingly, federal courts have consistently held those rushed and poorly analyzed decisions to be unlawful.
The Biden administration inherited an environmental and legal mess. Over the past three years it has revoked and rescinded all aspects of the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda as contrary to federal laws and principles of informed decision-making. Additionally, in its own report, the Interior Department has recognized that the oil and gas program under which the BLM sold and issued the leases involved 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.”
Development of these leases is not in the public interest. The climate crisis has arrived and the extinction crisis is worsening. Both are driven in large part by the BLM’s oil and gas program. If we are to avoid the worst consequences of a rapidly changing climate, we must quickly transition away from fossil fuel leasing and development. To that end, SUWA’s lawsuit asks the court to vacate the BLM’s leasing decisions and to prohibit the agency from approving future oil and gas development on those leases. Stay tuned for updates.
The above first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of our Redrock Wilderness newsletter. Become a member to receive our print newsletter in your mailbox 3 times a year.