A federal judge has issued a ruling against new drilling projects on public land, saying they had failed to account for greenhouse emissions, in the first major rebuke of the Trump administration’s push to increase fossil fuel extraction.
The ruling is expected to have widespread implications for drilling efforts on public lands, according to The Guardian.
The decision was a ruling on an environmental lawsuit over leases for drilling on public lands in Wyoming offered by the Obama administration, and will temporarily stop hundreds of projects while the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) redoes its analysis to account for climate change.
However, the ruling also lays the groundwork for future challenges to Trump administration energy policy, which has put even more emphasis on oil and gas extraction on public lands.
In 2016, WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center sued BLM under the Obama administration for not considering greenhouse emissions in its analysis of the impact of oil and gas projects.
On Tuesday, US district judge Rudolph Contreras agreed that BLM “did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing” and it “must consider the cumulative impact of GHG emissions” on past, current, and future land leases.
The ruling states that federal agencies must quantify and take into account emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. Already, that law requires agencies to consider local impacts like water pollution and effects on wildlife.
“What this decision says is, in evaluating the environmental consequences of the lease, an agency has to look not just at the consequences of the impacts immediately surrounding the lease but also the consequences down the road of burning the fuel once it’s extracted,” NYU environmental law expert Richard L. Revesz told The New York Times.
“This is the first court ruling that specifically tears apart the Interior Department’s failure to take into account the impact of climate change on drilling, on a national scale,” said WildEarth Guardians climate change and energy program director Jeremy Nichols.
It represents the first major check on the Trump administration’s “energy-first” policies, which have led to a dramatic increase in oil and gas leases on public lands. According to a recent study, over 13 million acres have been made available for leasing, much more than the prior administration did over a similar time period. The administration is also planning to open up much of the Atlantic coast to offshore drilling for oil and gas.
According to Nichols, WildEarth Guardians is now planning lawsuits over drilling projects in other states.