NPR-A lease sales appeals continue
Two separate but related lawsuits filed in federal District Court in Alaska by environmental organizations, challenging the legality of recent National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska lease sales, are continuing. One lawsuit challenges the lease sales conducted in 2016 and 2017, while the other challenges the 2017 lease sale.
In both cases the environmental organizations have filed motions for summary judgements, and both ConocoPhillips and the Bureau of Land Management have responded to the motions. Judge Sharon Gleason has scheduled joint oral arguments for Sept. 21. ConocoPhillips acquired leases from the sales.
Claim NEPA infringementBoth lawsuits challenge the legitimacy of the lease sales on the grounds that the sales contravened the National Environmental Policy Act, because BLM did not carry out an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of each sale prior to conducting the sale. Under the terms of NEPA, any significant federal action that could impact the environment requires an environmental evaluation, potentially leading to a formal environmental assessment or the development of an environmental impact statement.
The motion filed by the plaintiffs in the case challenging both the 2016 and the 2017 sales comments that BLM did conduct an environmental impact statement for the agency’s NPR-A integrated activity plan, the plan published in 2013 that spelled out which land tracts could be offered for future oil and gas leasing. However, BLM simply issued documents called determinations of NEPA adequacy for lease sales held since 2014. These documents are based on the original plan EIS. In particular, BLM declined to conduct any specific analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act for NPR-A for each of the lease sales, the court filing says.
Instead, BLM should have considered a reasonable range of lease sale alternatives for each lease sale, considering which areas to open for leasing and evaluating different leasing options, the plaintiffs argue.
The environmental organizations argue that BLM must consider the climate effects of lease sales, based on the amount of carbon dioxide that would likely be emitted into the atmosphere as a consequence of the burning of oil that may originate from leased land. And BLM has an obligation to protect important wildlife in the region, the organizations say. The organizations also comment on the importance of the impacted region for subsistence use.
The plaintiffs asked the court either to annul the 2016 and 2017 lease sales and any leases issued from the sales, or to ban activities on the leases until BLM complies with its obligations under NEPA.
ConocoPhillips and BLM respondConocoPhillips told the court that the appeal against the lease sales is time barred, because it was not filed within 60 days of the 2013 integrated activity plan being issued. And that plan specifies which land tracts should be made available for oil and gas leasing. Besides, ConocoPhillips argues, the appeal against the 2016 and 2017 leases sales has no merit, because the integrated activity plan expressly authorizes multiple lease sales. All that BLM needs to do is to ascertain whether there are any changed circumstances that may result in significantly different environmental impacts than were considered in the plan EIS, ConocoPhillips said.
BLM, in its court filing, argued that the issue of a lease, and not the conducting of a lease sale, forms a “final agency action,” potentially subject to court action. Moreover, by considering a broad range of leasing scenarios and addressing the question of what land should be available for leasing, the integrated activity plan and its associated EIS fully satisfied NEPA requirements for the subsequent lease sales, BLM told the court.
- ALAN BAILEY