September 07, 2006 --- Vol. 12, No. 59September 2006

Injunction halts BLM’s Sept. 27 NPR-A Northeast oil and gas sale

U.S. District Court Judge James Singleton Jr. has issued an injunction halting the Sept. 27 Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sale in the Northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The sale was challenged by the National Audubon Society, Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society. Plaintiffs challenged BLM’s decision to lease the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, rather than continuing special protection for that area, and specifically criticized the process leading to the result and challenged the final environmental impact statement and the biological opinion upon which the decision rests.

The court said defendants argued that the record of decision only offers leases for sale, subject to stipulations, that no ground activities are authorized. He said the argument “has significant superficial appeal on its face. It does, however, suffer from one glaring deficiency: it proposes to issue leases based on the stipulations and conditions contained in the ROD.”

Because the record of decision is being remanded for consideration of cumulative effects, stipulations may need to be amended, he said, and if leases are issued based on requirements in the record of decision, “they may prove difficult, if not impossible, to change subsequently. This would constitute irreparable injury,” he said, grounds for an injunction.

The court said it, and the Court of Appeals, “relied upon the implicit, if not explicit, representation” of defendants in an earlier challenge that cumulative impact would be addressed in the Northeast NPR-A EIS. Defendants now argue, the court said, that since this proposed action is limited to leasing, further analysis of cumulative impacts will be done when development occurs.

“Having failed to fully consider the cumulative effects of the proposed development … Defendants have violated NEPA and abused their discretion,” the court said.

The court said in a Sept. 6 decision that the final EIS failed “to adequately address the cumulative effects of the development” in the Northwest Planning Area and NE NPR-A and said “the failure constituted an abuse of discretion, was arbitrary and capricious” and, since the agency record of decision was “based on the invalid FEIS, must be vacated and remanded for further action consistent with this decision.”

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