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Colorado Attorney General Sides With BLM in Lawsuit Brought by Environmentalists

Claiming approved energy projects on federal lands could be put in jeopardy, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman just before the Christmas holiday weekend intervened on the side of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups against the federal agency.

Colorado now joins the American Petroleum Institute (API), Western Energy Alliance (WEA), the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) and county governments in supporting BLM in the lawsuit. State officials are worried the lawsuit could cripple future oil/natural gas development on federal lands if the environmental groups win their case.

Last August, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed a challenge to BLM leases in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The case was launched in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging 397 oil/gas leases sold in 10 lease sales covering 379,950 acres of public lands across the three western states.

The two environmental groups called the legal action a "landmark federal lawsuit to defend climate, our health and the American public lands" from widespread oil/gas leasing, drilling and ultimately hydraulic fracturing.

Colorado's intervention contended that if the federal court orders BLM to set aside the leases in question, the state could lose "its ability to ensure that future development continues" in step with Colorado regulations. It said Colorado could lose "funding for the very programs that prevent and mitigate adverse environmental impacts from oil/gas development, as well as funding for schools and county governments."

Even with the change of presidential administrations looming, the states and local officials are worried that if the lawsuit is successful, an overall revision of the federal oil/gas leasing program would likely follow.

The two environmental groups are alleging that BLM has violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and various climate directives by its failure to produce a broad environmental impact statement that focused on climate change. They contend that public lands leasing has promoted more "climate pollution"

"Currently, almost 10% of all U.S. energy-related climate pollution can be traced back to the extraction of publicly owned oil/gas," WildEarth Guardians said.

BLM attorneys have responded to the court that NEPA does not require any in-depth climate issues consideration at the leasing stage.

The Colorado AG’s office confirmed the request for intervention, adding that the state qualifies to join the lawsuit because of both "regulatory and economic interests in oil/gas development that could be impaired in this case."

Coffman concluded in the district court filing that "the defenses Colorado intends to mount in support of BLM's leasing program share common questions of law and fact with the claims and defenses already at issue in the litigation."

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