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BLM Must Set Aside New Mexico Leases, Repeat Environmental Review, Says Court

A federal district court judge in New Mexico has ruled that until an environmental review is redone, the Department of Interior’s  Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must set aside 13 oil and natural gas leases in the San Juan Basin that cover nearly 20,000 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF).

According to court records, 13 parcels of federal minerals covering 19,788 acres were reviewed by Interior’s U.S. Forest Service before they were auctioned by BLM in October 2015. By comparison, SFNF totals more than 1.56 million acres.

In U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, Judge M. Christina Armijo on Thursday agreed with some of the arguments set forth by a coalition of environmental groups in the case San Juan Citizens Alliance et al v. BLM et al, No. 16-cv-376.

Specifically, Armijo said BLM had failed to adequately consider the impacts the leases would have on downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change, and had also not taken a "hard look" at the leases' cumulative impact on water quantity.

"The court concludes that BLM's failure to estimate the amount of GHG emissions, which will result from consumption of the oil and gas produced as a result of development of wells on the leased areas, was arbitrary," Armijo wrote. "This error also requires that BLM reanalyze the potential impact of such GHG on climate change in light of the recalculated amount of emissions in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act."

However, Armijo disagreed with plaintiffs' assertion that BLM had failed to adequately consider mitigation measures related to the leases, or that it improperly relied on an Air Resources Technical Report when it issued them. She also rejected claims that BLM failed to analyze the cumulative impacts to air, groundwater and surface water quality. Armijo did not address the cumulative impacts of lease development on specific resources.

The coalition of environmental groups that sued over the leases in May 2016 includes the San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, Amigos Bravos, Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment and the Sierra Club.

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