Conservation groups sued the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today over the Trump administration’s rushed sale of seven oil and gas leases on public lands in Kern County, California.
The December sale, pushed through in the last weeks of the Trump administration, allows oil and gas operators to expand environmentally harmful drilling and fracking in an area of the state already overwhelmed by fossil fuel production. Auction of the parcels relied on the administration’s flawed environmental review process for its plan to allow oil and gas drilling and fracking on more than 1 million acres of public lands and mineral estate in central California. A coalition of environmental justice, conservation and business allies have also challenged that plan in court.
The Kern parcels are the first opened for oil and gas drilling and fracking under the challenged plan and the first sale of California federal public lands to oil and gas operators in eight years.
“This lease sale was a last, lawless giveaway from Trump to fossil fuel companies,” said Clare Lakewood, legal director at the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “Our public lands are meant for public benefit, not to churn out air pollution and greenhouse gases that harm us all. The Biden administration needs to reverse these rushed, reckless industry handouts.”
“The law is cut and dry: The federal government must undergo thorough and careful environmental reviews before holding lease sales like these,” said Hallie Templeton, deputy legal director at Friends of the Earth. “The Trump administration shirked its duty and we’re using every tool at our disposal to ensure that this dangerous and risky fossil fuel development is stopped in its tracks.”
Conservation and community groups have voiced opposition to the sale since it was announced in late August. The BLM received nearly 35,000 written comments condemning the sale, as well as a letter signed by more than 85 conservation, environmental justice, public health and community groups asking the agency to halt the sale.
“The BLM has never fully evaluated the impacts of its hasty plan to expand oil and gas development on public lands in California,” said Michelle Ghafar, attorney at Earthjustice. “The bureau failed to do so at its initial planning stage. It failed once again after a federal court ordered it to properly analyze the dangerous fracking activity allowed under its plan. And the Trump administration failed to consider how the lease sale will harm public health and important environmental resources in the region. The agency cannot keep punting its duties to protect local communities and public lands in Central California from devastating drilling and fracking activity.”
Oil and gas activity on the sold parcels will further harm communities in Kern County, polluting air and water in a region with some of the worst air and water pollution in the country.
“The Trump administration’s negligent opening of more than 4,000 acres for fossil fuel drilling threatens the climate, lands and communities,” said Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney at the Sierra Club. “Communities in Kern County have suffered the consequences of excessive oil and gas drilling for too long. Thousands of abandoned wells near neighborhoods are dangerously polluting air and groundwater, and more extraction would significantly worsen this. The Trump administration failed to do a full analysis and meaningful consultation on these leases, and we look forward to the Biden administration reversing course to urgently revoke this corporate polluter giveaway.”
Parcels sold include land within an “area of critical environmental concern” and land neighboring Carrizo Plain National Monument. Drilling and fracking on these parcels could threaten endangered species like the San Joaquin kit fox and California condor and will increase emissions of pollutants responsible for climate change. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Fresno.
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would essentially exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for staying below warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Existing laws give Congress and presidents the authority to end new federal fossil fuel leasing. Hundreds of organizations have already petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore leasing. In January, President Biden issued an executive order suspending new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and waters.