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Wold Drilling

The Nabors X21 rig operates at a Wold Energy Partners well site March 16, 2018, north of Rolling Hills in Converse County. Environmental and public health groups have accused the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management of rushing its review of possible contributions to climate change caused by lands leased during the Obama administration.

Thirty-three environmental and public health groups say the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management rushed a court-ordered review of how land leased to oil and gas companies could have contributed to climate change.

U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled last month that the Bureau of Land Management had failed to consider, or attempt to quantify, how potential fossil fuel development from those leases exacerbates a warming climate when it leased about 500 square miles of land to companies during the Obama years. 

Long-term ramifications of the ruling were unclear. The judge did not rescind the leases. He blocked future drilling on those parcels of land until the environmental review was complete.

But in instructing the BLM to rewrite its environmental analysis of climate impacts, environmental groups championed the ruling as a precedent for weighing the climate against fossil fuel use.

On Friday, less than a month after the judge’s decision, the BLM completed its task and offered a public review period of 10 days.

In a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, environmental groups like WildEarth Guardians and the Wyoming Outdoor Council say that’s too little time -- both in terms of how long the BLM took to fulfill the judge's ruling and how long the public now has to consider the BLM’s work and respond.

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, one of the letter’s signees, said he could provide a thoughtful analysis of the supplemental environmental review, but that in his experience it takes more than a month’s time to do a proper environmental review.

His group, and others, say they are trying to digest the 70-page environmental review within the time frame of public input, but that the rush is unnecessary.

“It just feels like they're trying to railroad through some new paperwork that they claim is going to make everything right,” Nichols said.

A comment from the Bureau of Land Management’s Wyoming office was not available by press time Wednesday afternoon.

The Trump administration has made the deregulation of federal land and encouragement of energy production a foundation of its Western land policy. Early decisions -- like the Environmental Protection Agency’s rolling back of the coal-cutting Clean Power Plan and the BLM’s efforts to walk back regulations on methane in the oil and gas fields -- were considered promises kept by the administration to the fossil fuel business community.

In regard to climate change, the president has made a number of comments denying its existence or disparaging the underlying science. Wyoming politicians have taking a softer course in recent years, arguing that the desire to address climate change is impacting markets on which the state depends. Republican Sen. John Barrasso has begun echoing the state stance, leading efforts in Washington such as an expansion of federal subsidies for carbon capture projects.

Nichols said in light of the political climate, the court decision matters more for the next administration than the current one.

“Is it changing the decisions right now? No, because we have an administration that cares more about what the fossil fuel industry wants,” he said. "I think what we are trying to do is set the stage for a new administration, which is more reasonable, more respectful of science and acknowledges the need to take climate action.”

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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