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article imageMontana just got a major break from oil and gas development

By Karen Graham     May 4, 2020 in Politics
A federal judge in Montana on Friday vacated 287 oil and gas leases on almost 150,000 acres of land in the state, ruling that the Trump administration had improperly issued the leases to energy companies in 2017 and 2018.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris vacated the leases, which were issued in December 2017 and March 2018, and his ruling remands the leases back to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for further review.
Judge Morris said the BLM failed to consider the environmental impacts of the drilling, and in particular, he noted that the BLM had not accounted for the impact of drilling on regional water supplies, nor the global impact increased drilling would have on climate change.
The New York Times notes that this most recent ruling at least the third time the Trump administration has been criticized for failing to address the cumulative impacts of expanding fossil fuel production on the warming of the planet.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument  Montana.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana.
Bureau of Land Management
“BLM provided no catalog here and little analysis to show the combined environmental impacts,” Morris wrote, adding, “if BLM ever hopes to determine the true impact of its projects on climate change, it can do so only by looking at projects in combination with each other, not simply in the context of state and nation-wide emissions.”
Morris also pointed out in his ruling that the BLM's use of environmental assessments, rather than an environmental impact statement, were flawed not by their substance but by their absence of environmental analysis regarding groundwater and impacts on climate.
Morris wrote, "In other words, the Court does not fault B.L.M. for providing a faulty analysis of cumulative impacts or impacts to groundwater, it largely faults B.L.M. for failing to provide any analysis.”
The oil and gas leases in question were on 145,065 acres of public land in Montana near Livingston, the Stillwater River, the Tongue River Valley and one parcel that is next to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, according to the Missoula Current.
Oil prices have enjoyed a rollercoaster ride on global markets
Oil prices have enjoyed a rollercoaster ride on global markets
Mazen Mahdi, AFP
Derrick Henry, a spokesman for the bureau, wrote in an email: “With all due respect, we disagree with the Court’s conclusion, and the B.L.M. stands by its analysis in following the letter of the law to issue oil and gas leases in Montana. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this dispute and despite the attempts of radical, special interest groups, the Department and the B.L.M. will continue to work toward ensuring America’s energy independence while preserving a healthy environment.”
The 1970 National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a United States environmental law that promotes the enhancement of the environment and established the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970.
Everything was hunky-Dory until January 2015 when Republican Senator Rob Portman, introduced the "Federal Permitting Improvement Act of 2015." The bill established several requirements and procedures designed to expedite the completion of NEPA-related reviews, including the creation of a "Federal Permitting Improvement Council."
 President Trump Announces Proposed National Environmental Policy Act Regulations. Scene from a vide...
'President Trump Announces Proposed National Environmental Policy Act Regulations. Scene from a video put out by the White House.
White House - January 9, 2020
In August 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13807: "Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects." This executive order directs CEQ to use its "authority to interpret NEPA to simplify and accelerate the NEPA review process", requires agencies to "establish procedures for a regular review and update of categorical exclusions", and revokes President Obama's Executive Order 13690 that increased Flood Risk Management to include the science on climate change."
Consequently, CEQ published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking "Update to the Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act."
Since August 2017 and the president's executive order, the Trump administration has repeatedly been blocked by the courts over its attempts to help the oil, gas, and coal industries and roll back the NEPA. Actually, Judge Morris followed other federal judges and cited the failure of the Trump administration to follow the provisions of the NEPA.
“The nature of climate change is that we’re dealing with death by a thousand cuts. These decisions are saying you have to add up the impact of all of those cuts,” said Kyle Tisdel, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that argued against the administration in the Montana lease case.
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