Three weeks after voluntarily dropping its opposition to reinstating two oil and gas leases in northwestern Montana, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has asked a federal appeals court to dismiss a case for lack of jurisdiction.
BLM earlier this month voluntarily dropped its appeal of a federal district court's decision to reinstate the leases in the Badger-Two Medicine region of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. In a motion filed Wednesday, BLM argued that the case shouldn't be allowed to continue solely on an appeal by tribes still opposed to the leases, including the Pikuni Traditionalist Association.
"Interior is not pursuing an appeal in this case, and the court does not have jurisdiction to review the district court's decision on an appeal by the intervenors alone," BLM said. "Accordingly, the intervenors' appeal should be dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction."
At issue are leases the BLM awarded in 1982, which were suspended during three rounds of administrative appeals and a subsequent lawsuit by environmental groups and the Blackfeet Nation. Court records show that after 1997, Congress withdrew the area from new oil and gas leasing and all but two of the leases were relinquished.
BLM cancelled the final two leases during the waning days of the Obama administration. Texas oilman W.A. "Tex" Moncrief, owner of one of the leases, sued the agency in April 2017. A federal district court in Montana last September ruled in favor of Moncrief and Solenex LLC, the holder of the other lease. BLM had appealed those rulings.
The appellate court earlier this month granted a motion by Moncrief to modify the briefing schedule for the case, Moncrief v. Department of Interior et al, No. 18-05340. Assuming the case is not dismissed, Moncrief faces a June 5 deadline to submit briefs with final briefs due on July 26.
There was also action Wednesday in the other appellate case involving the leases, Solenex LLC v. David Bernhardt et al, No. 18-5345. Solenex asked the court for a 30-day extension to file response briefs, which if granted would push the deadline to June 5.