Several states take BLM to court for illegal, underhanded tactics
by Darrel L. Flowers
as published by Fairfield Sun Times
On Thursday, August 11, Western Energy Alliance (WEA) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in New Mexico against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Sally Jewell. The case was filed in response to tactics undertaken by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), an agency of the Department of Interior.
According to the 30 page complaint filed by plaintiff WEA, the Denver based oil and gas industry association is seeking judicial review of actions taken by the BLM under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). WEA is seeking relief under the Freedom of Information Act, (“FOIA”) and the Declaratory Judgment Act.
According to The Mineral Leasing Act, the federal government will make “federal minerals available for leasing and lease sales shall be held for each State where eligible lands are available at least quarterly and more frequently if the Secretary of the Interior determines such sales are necessary.” The charges are that the BLM, the agency tasked with failed to meet the provisions of the law. The WEA asks the court to direct the BLM to “abandon its current leasing schedule immediately, rescind any guidance documents and instruction memoranda that implement these unlawful practices, and promptly adopt a revised schedule that complies with the terms of the Mineral Leasing Act.”
In New Mexico, according to the complaint, before October 2013, the New Mexico BLM State Office announced the adoption of a “rotational schedule” for oil and gas leases. Under this new format, the State Office of the BLM would continue to hold four lease sales per year, “but only offer for sale Federal mineral estate within a certain District, Field and/or geographic area once per year.”
In Montana, the complaint alleges that “expressions of interest” for federal land parcels located in Montana and North Dakota have been pending since 2014. On March 26, 2015, the Montana/Dakotas State Office in Billings canceled a sale that was to be conducted on October 20. That lease sale was to involve parcels from BLM field offices only in Montana. The Montana/Dakotas office in Billings represented that “the Billings Field Office has decided to defer consideration of the parcel until the draft Billings Resource Management Plan (RMP) is complete.” The BLM did not make any claim that the existing RMP was legally invalid or otherwise inadequate, the lawsuit charges.
On December 22, the complaint reads, the Montana/Dakotas BLM State Office announced the postponement of a lease sale that was set for January 26, 2016. The reason given by the agency was “because there is not enough time to coordinate an appropriate venue.”
On January 12, 2016, the Fairfield Sun Times was the first media to report on a coordinated effort to protest and postpone mineral leases on Federal land across the US. The Sun Times had been receiving emails from the “Keep it in the Ground” campaign, a leftist movement that appears to be the brainchild of Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian, a left-wing British newspaper. The Guardian website, theguardian.com, devotes entire sections to the “green” Keep it in the Ground movement.
Keep it in the Ground has a website, keepitintheground.org, but that URL forwards to another site, priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2016/07/2015-9-15_KING-Letter-to-Obama.pdf . That page is a 19-page letter to President Obama, signed by a variety of environmental groups and individuals, among them “Demos,” a Liberal think tank that counts then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama among the Founding Board Members.
The WEA complaint also alleges lease sale improprieties in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, as well as several eastern states.
For the January story published in the Sun Times, we found lease sale cancellations as far east as Michigan and Arkansas. Those sales were planned for December, 2015. Environmental groups “had threatened the sale in an effort to ‘keep fossil fuels in the ground.’ Those groups ‘hailed the BLM’s postponement of the December lease sale as a victory,’ read a report on the postponed sale from Mark Burghardt with the law firm of Holland and Hart. Burghardt added, ‘If correct, this would be the second time in less than a month that environmental groups forced the BLM to postpone an oil and gas lease sale,’” reported the January 12, 2016 story that appeared in the Sun Times.
For that story, calls made by the Sun Times to the BLM office in Washington, DC were not returned.
After the story appeared the Montana/Dakotas BLM lease sale was rescheduled. The Billings BLM office was never able to explain what the requirements were for a “suitable venue,” just as they could not explain why they were unable to locate said suitable venue in the largest city in the state of Montana.
The WEA complaint also claims that the BLM showed a lack of transparency in violation of FOIA requests submitted by WEA.
The complaint asks the court to grant relief by declaring that the BLM has unjustifiably denied the Alliance’s FOIA requests and direct BLM to process the FOIA requests and deliver all responsive materials to the Alliance immediately; declare the manner in which BLM is presently scheduling and administering oil and gas lease sales unlawful as a violation of the express terms of the Mineral Leasing Act; require BLM to immediately abandon all currently existing lease sale schedules that do not comply with the Mineral Leasing Act and to adopt promptly revised lease sale schedules that comply with the terms of the Mineral Leasing Act and direct BLM to revise or rescind all agency guidance and instructional memoranda, including I.M. No. 2010-117, that direct implementation of BLM’s lease sale program in a manner contrary to law.
Reposted by Reagangirl.com 8/31/16