Environmental Groups Seek to Intervene in Mineral Lease Sale Lawsuit

This week in New Mexico, nine environmental groups asked a federal judge for permission to intervene in a law suit between Western Energy Alliance (“WEA”), an oil and gas industry group, and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”). WEA challenges the agency, arguing that BLM has failed to hold quarterly sales for mineral leases. Meanwhile, the environmental groups such as Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and others, argue that WEA is inappropriately seeking a far-reaching rule that could have harmful impacts on the work these environmental groups have done to reform BLM’s leasing process.

The initial suit was filed by WEA in August and contends that BLM has a duty under the Mineral Leasing Act to hold lease sales at least four times a year for the 700 million acres of land within its jurisdiction, yet various land has gone six months to a year without new lease sales. However, environmental groups respond that BLM’s current process is the result of a 2010 policy which requires the agency to consider natural resources more carefully before offering lease sales.

The environmental groups argue that because they seek to protect lands and natural resources, in addition to ensuring robust process and environmental review for oil and gas leases and BLM’s historic comprising of environmental protection in favor of other factors, they should intervene in the suit. The groups fear that WEA’s challenge could impair the development of carefully crafted environmental protection objectives relating to wildlife, wilderness-quality lands, air quality, public health, and climate. Additionally, they argue that WEA’s demand would improperly modify agency discretion over the leasing transform it into a legal mandate, forcing BLM to offer new leases without adequate environmental review.

On the other hand, WEA contends BLM lacks transparency and does not provide public information about auction scheduling. As such, the trade group served nine BLM state offices with Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests in April and while the BLM consolidated the requests, it never responded.

BLM lawyers commented that the agency does not have a position on the environmental groups’ request to intervene regarding the alleged violations of the Mineral Leasing Act. However, the agency does oppose the groups’ intervention regarding the alleged FOIA violation.   The agency has agreed to provide the environmental groups with documents already released to WEA in response to the FOIA request. In turn, the groups have noted that if they receive all of the documents, they won’t object to being granted intervention with the condition that they cannot be involved with proceedings related to the alleged FOIA violation. WEA has not yet taken a position on this matter.