Legal Protest Filed Against Fossil Fuel Auction of Public Lands in Montana

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Legal Protest Filed Against Fossil Fuel Auction of Public Lands in Montana

BLM Fails to Weigh Climate Impact, Raises Risk for Threatened Species Such As Rare Pallid Sturgeon

BILLINGS, Mont. - Conservation groups filed a formal administrative protest Friday challenging a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off nearly 20,000 acres of publicly owned fossil fuels in northeast Montana. The protest cites concerns over air and water pollution, fracking and potential harm to threatened species ­— including the rare pallid sturgeon and greater sage grouse ­— and the BLM’s failure to consider the auction’s impact on climate change.

Groups protesting the lease auction include the Center for Biological Diversity, Great Old Broads for the Wilderness, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Montana chapter of the Sierra Club.

This lease sale of public fossil fuels on 19,790 acres in Glacier, Toole, Choteau, Liberty, Hill, Phillips and Valley counties carries the potential to produce 714,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Besides the numerous shortcomings in its environmental assessment, BLM failed to take into account the damaging effects that burning these fossil fuels would have on the climate crisis,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe of the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to honor our commitments in the Paris climate agreement, President Obama needs to halt new federal fossil fuel auctions now.”

In addition to the pollution threat posed by fracking and other extraction processes, the lands to be auctioned also provide critical habitat for listed, rare and imperiled species such as the pallid sturgeon, least tern, piping plover, whooping crane, red knot, black-footed ferret, Sprague’s pipit and greater sage grouse.

“The pallid sturgeon is an amazing creature that has survived more or less unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs, but now it’s on the verge of extinction due to dams and habitat loss. The BLM must not allow oil and gas drilling — and potential spills — on the banks of the sturgeon’s habitat in the Milk River without full consideration of the risks,” said Matt Skoglund, director of NRDC’s Northern Rockies office in Bozeman, Mont.

The groups’ protest also cites BLM’s failure to provide accurate and consistent mapping data for the lease parcels, in violation of the Agency’s public participation requirements.

The legal protest is part of a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to expand his climate legacy by halting new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution in the ground. “Keep It in the Ground” rallies opposed to federal fossil fuel auctions have been growing across the country — in Alaska, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Nevada — and have caused some auctions to be canceled or postponed. 

“The Keep It in the Ground movement will continue to call out the hypocrisy of the administration’s stated goal of fighting climate change while at the same time selling off fossil fuels on our public lands,” Dascalu-Joffe said.

Background
The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes up about a third of the U.S. land area, and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It in the Ground Act (Senate Bill 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Download the September “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama. 

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases). 

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet. 

Download Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits, a report about the corporations that are profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s formal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition with 264 other groups calling for a halt to all new onshore fossil fuel leasing.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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