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Interior Denies Allegations by Environmental Groups in Leasing Lawsuit

The Obama administration has issued a long list of denials in a lawsuit filed last summer by two environmental groups, pushing back against allegations that the Department of Interior (DOI) acted improperly before approving nearly 400 oil and gas leases in three western states.

In a 27-page filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday, attorneys for the DOI and the other defendants in the case -- DOI Secretary Sally Jewell, the DOI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Director Neil Kornze -- denied numerous allegations leveled by the environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Among key points in the case, the DOI denied allegations that it "failed to analyze the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of the sale and resulting development of these lands on the climate, in violation of NEPA,” the National Environmental Policy Act.

Although the DOI admitted that the BLM had never prepared a programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) “focusing on the climate impacts of its nationwide oil and gas leasing activities," the department denied allegations that the BLM was required to do so in order to comply with NEPA.

The DOI also conceded that "one possible approach to evaluating the impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions is to undertake a complex and arguably subjective analysis of the costs of those emissions to society, although such an approach is not always helpful to decision makers or the interested public."

That approach, also known as the "social cost of carbon," a metric used to calculate the cost to society from one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) being emitted into the atmosphere, was cited by the incoming Trump administration in its controversial questionnaire to employees and contractors working for the Department of Energy. The Trump transition team has since disavowed the questionnaire.

Last August, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed the lawsuit over the government's decision to approve 397 oil and gas leases in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The case is WildEarth Guardians et al v. Jewell et al [No. 1:16-cv-01724-RC].

The leases, totaling 379,950 acres of public land, were sold through 10 lease sales beginning in 2015. Three energy trade associations -- -- the American Petroleum Institute, the Western Energy Alliance and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming -- were allowed to intervene in the case last month.

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