Judge temporarily halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change

Judge temporarily halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change
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A federal judge late Tuesday temporarily blocked oil and gas drilling on thousands of acres of public land in Wyoming, ruling that the Trump administration failed to “sufficiently consider climate change.”

The decision by Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of drilling on the roughly 300,000 acres by not studying how each proposed drilling project could contribute to overall U.S. carbon emissions.

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The ruling marks the first time the Trump administration’s energy agenda has been halted for not considering climate change.

“Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before irretrievably committing to that drilling,” he wrote.

An assessment of how drilling affects the environment is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The lack of specificity in the bureau’s environmental assessment made it inadequate, Contreras, an Obama appointee, said.

“Climate change, and humanity’s ability to combat it, are increasingly prominent topics of public discourse. This case concerns the attention the government must give climate change when taking action that may increase its effects,” he wrote in his opinion.

“BLM failed to take a 'hard look' at [greenhouse gas] emissions from the Wyoming Lease Sales.”

The ruling effectively blocked drilling across all Wyoming public lands until the bureau could redo its analysis of hundreds of planned extraction projects in the state.

The legal challenge was brought by two advocacy groups, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility. The challenge involved Wyoming oil and gas lease sales held between May 2015 and August 2016, under the Obama administration

The monumental decision Tuesday could have reverberating consequences for the Trump administration, which has placed a strong emphasis on expanding the fossil fuel industry's access to public lands.

Tuesday’s ruling comes as the Interior Department is expected to roll out a new five-year drilling plan that aims to expand offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposal is likely to receive heavy criticism from environmentalists and from governments in coastal states who largely reject federal plans to open up drilling off their shores.

A Interior Spokesperson said the agency doesn't comment on on-going litigation.

The Bureau of Land Management did not respond to a request for comment.