Enviro groups sue over lack of oil and gas air-pollution analysis near Roan Plateau

Conservation groups today filed suit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for allegedly illegally approving thousands of oil and gas wells on federal land in western Colorado without conducting proper air-pollution analysis.

Filed in U.S. District Court by Earthjustice on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Wilderness Workshop and the Wilderness Society, the lawsuit accuses the BLM of violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

Graham’s penstemon. By Susan Meyer
“BLM is violating NEPA by turning a blind eye to the air pollution and health impacts that result from the oil and gas projects it authorizes,” said Michael Freeman, the Earthjustice attorney handling the case. “Communities have a right to know how the air they breathe will be degraded by new drilling in Colorado.”

The groups charge that the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office signed off on new wells in the last few years by saying the air pollution analysis was covered in a 2006 environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Roan Plateau. But many of the new wells, according to the lawsuit, are more than 10 miles from the Roan Plateau.

In a separate case impacting oil and gas drilling on Colorado’s Western Slope, a U.S. District Court judge late last week ruled that the U.S. Interior Department must reconsider its decision rejecting Endangered Species Act protection for a wildflower found only in parts of Colorado and Utah and threatened by oil and gas drilling, oil shale production, cattle grazing and off-road vehicle traffic.

The wildflower is the Graham’s penstemon, which was rejected for Endangered Species Act protection during the Bush administration. The court found that the Bush administration’s decision not to list the flower was “arbitrary and capricious.”

“The court’s decision makes it clear that FWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) cannot set aside science and avoid full consideration of the multiple threats that incrementally push a species closer to extinction,” said Meg Parish, attorney for the conservation groups.

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