Greens’ shady legal tactics to lock up American energy

Last week, activist groups WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review nearly 400 oil and gas leases on federal lands. If successful, the lawsuit would advance the radical “keep it in the ground” movement via shady legal tactics and further impair the nation’s fiscal health and energy security.

The lawsuit, filed in the D.C. District Court, challenges 397 oil and gas leases in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, covering 379,950 acres of land. WildEarth Guardians and PSR state that the BLM and the Department of Interior violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to account for the climate impacts of approving said oil and gas leases. This suit follows recent assaults on energy development, namely the DOI’s decision to place a moratorium on coal leases on federal lands.

Plain and simple, this suit is an attempt to block federal lands from natural resources development, despite the fact that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLMPA) specifically provides for “multiple use” of public lands (including energy development). These groups want to end all oil and gas development, and not just on federal lands. To do so, they turn to extra-legal tactics to circumvent conventional legal avenues. Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance summed it up perfectly: “WildEarth is trying to force the government to violate the law…It’s much easier to just file a frivolous lawsuit than it is to change the law through Congress.” The prospect of a “sue and settle” situation is troubling in this instance, given Interior’s prior inclination to prohibit natural resource development with the federal coal moratorium.

If successful, this suit could severely damage energy development, the U.S.’s already precarious fiscal situation and harm states’ economies, as well. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its updated budget outlook. CBO found that the federal deficit will grow compared to the FY2016 deficit and is larger than previously predicted, specifically citing decreased revenues. Blocking off federal land from resource development would only worsen the deficit by foregoing revenues from bids, lease payments, and royalties, and the reduced employment from energy development on federal lands would also mean more joblessness and fewer taxes.

Additionally, federal land ownership requires upkeep and funding to maintain the lands, as well as payment in lieu of taxes to the affected communities and localities. Conversely, opening up federal lands to greater resource development would result in tens of billions in revenues over the near term and hundreds of billions down the road. Not to mention the potential $20.7 trillion in added GDP and roughly 3 million new jobs over the long term.
America has vast reserves of oil and gas, which can not only be produced in an environmentally sensitive way, but also have the potential to support millions of jobs and contribute to the fiscal health of the federal government. Attempts to block energy development on these lands, like this suit from the WildEarth Guardians, is nothing more than a ploy to advance an ideological goal. Policymakers should see this suit for what it really is — a litigious attempt to hinder economic growth under the guise of environmental conservancy. This attempt, and other lawsuits like it, should be understood for what they are.

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