Court strikes down 440 oil and gas leases across the West

Court strikes down 440 oil and gas leases across the West
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A federal court in Montana invalidated 440 oil and gas leases sold across the West, ruling Friday the Trump administration did not properly follow a plan to protect sage grouse habitat. 

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris said the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Trump administration “undercut” the 2015 plan the agency created under the previous administration that set aside land for the threatened bird.

The decision strikes down a 2018 memo that sought to change that plan, meaning the government will have to return millions of dollars for oil and gas contracts spread over some 336,000 acres.  

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“The errors here occurred at the beginning of the oil and gas lease sale process, infecting everything that followed,” Morris wrote.

Environmentalists are hopeful the decision will lead to reversals on more oil and gas leases in other states.

“The court’s decision is not only good news for the sage-grouse, it reaffirms the historic plan that BLM worked out with farmers, ranchers, conservationists, energy groups, and government officials,” Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman, who represented conservation groups in the suit, said in a release. “It confirms that the Trump administration violated the law in bulldozing those commitments in its haste to sell off lands that are owned by all Americans to the oil and gas industry.”

Neither BLM nor the Department of the Interior immediately responded to request for comment.

The 2015 plan was designed to fight dwindling sage grouse numbers, but efforts to protect the birds have proven controversial with some ranchers and oil and gas companies.