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By Associated press
INVOICES, Mont. – A judge has blocked oil and gas drilling on nearly 500 square miles in Wyoming and said the US government needs to consider the impacts of climate change more broadly, as it leases huge expanses of public land for energy exploration.
This order is the latest in a series of court decisions over the last decade – including one last month in Montana – that criticize the United States for not taking into account greenhouse gas emissions. they approve oil, gas and coal projects on federal lands.
US Judge Rudolph Contreras, of the US District in Washington, seemed to go further than other judges in his order last Tuesday.
Previous decisions related to individual sales or leases. But Contreras said that when the US Bureau of Land Management auctions public land for oil and gas leases, officials must consider emissions from past, present, and future leases that are foreseeable in the future. nationwide.
"Given the national and cumulative nature of climate change, considering each drilling project under a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context needed to assess oil and gas drilling on federal lands." declared Contreras.
This decision coincides with an aggressive push by the administration of President Donald Trump to open more public lands to energy development.
This was a lawsuit challenging leases in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado in 2015 and 2016 under the administration of President Barack Obama.
Only leases in Wyoming were immediately addressed in the Contreras decision. It prevents federal officials from issuing drilling permits until a new environmental review of greenhouse gas emissions is completed.
The case was brought by two advocacy groups, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
WildEarth Guardians climate program director Jeremy Nichols predicted that the decision would have far more significant consequences than stopping drilling in parts of Wyoming, assuming the government is responding to Contreras' request.
"It's the Holy Grail decision we've followed, especially with oil and gas," Nichols said. "This calls into question the legality of the oil and gas leasing that occurs everywhere."
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon criticized the decision, saying that carbon emissions should not be reduced at the expense of workers who provide reliable and affordable energy.
"Putting our country on our knees is not the way to thwart climate change – we need solutions that are not imposed," said Gordon, a Republican.
Federal officials reviewed the court's decision to determine its implications and made no further comment, said BLM spokeswoman Kristen Lenhardt.
Emissions from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels on federal lands generate the equivalent of 1.4 billion tonnes per year of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, according to a report by November of the US Geological Survey. This equates to almost a quarter of the total carbon dioxide emissions of the United States.
According to the most recent figures released by the government, companies have paid more than $ 6.5 billion to produce oil, gas and coal from federal lands and waters. The money is shared between the federal government and the states where the extraction takes place.
Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance, who is lobbying on behalf of the oil industry, said the BLM was already analyzing emissions appropriately in accordance with rules set under the Obama administration.
Following previous court decisions on climate change, the BLM reconsidered the effects of fossil fuels and then reaffirmed project approvals.
This could happen again in this case, with other studies done before allowing drilling, said Harry Weiss, an environmental lawyer and environmental scientist based in Philadelphia. , whose clients include oil and gas companies.
"This decision should not be interpreted as a ban on leasing activities," Weiss said. "The court does not decide whether to give up, the court just notes how the administration has analyzed the problems."