Environmental organizations are suing to scrap a management plan that would allow oil and gas drilling across public lands in southwestern Colorado.
Six environmental groups filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver on Wednesday against the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department, the BLM’s parent agency. The groups claim the plan violates federal environmental laws because it didn’t consider reasonable alternatives or take a hard look at the potential greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on the climate.
The groups also filed a notice of their intent to sue on grounds that the plan released by the Colorado BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office violates the federal Endangered Species Act by not ensuring the protection of Gunnison sage grouse.
The bird, the greater sage grouse’s smaller cousin, is found only in western Colorado and Utah and was designated as threatened in 2015, triggering federal protections. In 2019, environmentalists and Colorado wildlife officials voiced concerns about the bird’s dropping numbers.
“The Gunnison sage grouse is presently experiencing catastrophic declines rangewide,” Talasi Brooks, a staff attorney with Western Watersheds Project said in a statement. “The plan’s business-as-usual approach falls far short of the urgent action required to preserve this species from the effects of rampant livestock grazing and oil and gas development.”
BLM spokesman Jayson Barangan said the agency had not received the complaint and couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
The resource management plan, released in April, includes federally managed lands in Montrose, Gunnison, Ouray, Mesa, Delta and San Miguel counties. The BLM manages 675,800 surface acres and 971,220 acres of minerals, including oil, gas and coal, in the area.
The plan will guide management decisions and energy development for the next 20 years on nearly 1.7 million acres of mountains, woodlands and red-rock deserts. It would allow drilling on more than half of the public lands and coal mining on another 371,000 acres, according to the environmental groups.
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Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that the plan “will worsen the climate catastrophe by plundering these beautiful public lands with filthy, water-guzzling fracking and drilling.”
The environmental organizations want the court to block any drilling or mining in the area and set the plan aside.
The BLM plan, in the works for several years, has also drawn opposition from residents in the North Fork Valley who don’t want to see more drilling in the area. The valley has become known for its organic farms, wineries and artists.
Critics of the plan have accused the BLM of approving a management scheme that wasn’t one of the four presented to the public and discussed through the process. BLM officials have said they collaborated with a broad range of interest groups and provided multiple opportunities for public input.
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