Published: December 14, 2012
By: Earthworks et. al.
February 2013 Oil & Gas Lease Sale Final EA/FONSIHelen Hankins, State Director
Bureau of Land Management
Colorado State Office
2850 Youngfield Street
Lakewood, CO 80215
Re: Protest of the Tres Rios February 2013 Oil and Gas Lease Sale Parcels, DOI-BLM-CO-S010-2012-0061 EA
Dear Ms. Hankins:
The Western Environmental Law Center submits the following comments on behalf of San Juan Citizens Alliance (“SJCA”), EARTHWORKS, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Sheep Mountain Alliance, Bruce Baizel, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club, (hereafter referred to as the Protesters), in protest to the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) Tres Rios Field Office (“TRFO”) Final Environmental Assessment (“EA”) and unsigned Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”) prepared for the February 2013 competitive oil and gas lease sale, pursuant to 43 CFR 3120.1-3, and identified as DOI-BLM-CO-S010-2012-0061 EA. The Protesters’ interests in these parcels, and the statement of reasons supporting this protest, are set forth below. Protesters challenge the inclusion of all Tres Rios parcels to be offered in the February 2013 lease sale, as identified by Serial Numbers:
COC75900, COC75901, COC75902, COC75903, COC75904, COC75905,
COC75906, COC75907, COC75908, COC75909, COC75910, COC75911.
In short, the Final EA and unsigned FONSI, dated November 16, 2012, are contrary to law for the same reasons that the draft EA and FONSI were deficient and contrary to law. Protesters submitted extensive comments on this draft assessment and preliminary finding to the TRFO and Protest of the BLM’s Colorado State Office on October 2, 2012 (“Comments”). Despite the myriad concerns outlined in the Protesters earlier comments, the Final EA and unsigned FONSI are virtually identical to draft forms released by the TRFO. Accordingly, those comments, and the exhibits submitted in support thereof, are already part of the Administrative Record for these parcels and are therefore incorporated by reference, and Exhibits previously submitted will be referenced by the same exhibit number used in the Comments (collectively attached as Exhibit A). Additional, new exhibits submitted in support of these protests with be designated alphabetically and will be submitted along with this protest.
Protesters find it deeply troubling that earlier Comments have apparently not been considered in TRFO’s Final EA. As Protesters continue to point out, Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) regulations provide that “public scrutiny [is] essential to implementing NEPA.” 40 C.F.R. § 1500.1(b). In particular, the federal agency must “involve environmental agencies, applicants, and the public, to the extent practicable,” 40 C.F.R. § 1501.4(b), and “[m]ake diligent efforts to involve the public in preparing and implementing their NEPA procedures.” Id. at § 1506.6(a); see also, e.g., Bering Strait Citizens for Responsible Development v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 511 F.3d 1011, 1024 (9th Cir. 2008) (providing a framework for public participation in the NEPA process). “NEPA’s public comment procedures are at the heart of the NEPA review process” and reflect “the paramount Congressional desire to internalize opposing viewpoints into the decision making process to ensure that an agency is cognizant of all the environmental trade-offs that are implicit in a decision.” California v. Block, 690 F.2d 753, 770- 71 (9th Cir. 1982). Moreover, as the Tenth Circuit has provided: “The purpose behind NEPA is to ensure that the agency will only reach a decision on a proposed action after carefully considering the environmental impacts of several alternative courses of action and after taking public comment into account.” Forest Guardians v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 611 F.3d 692, 717 (10th Cir. 2010) (emphasis added). Here, BLM seems intent on treating public participation as a box they can check off, rather than the type of meaningful engagement that CEQ regulations and the courts envision. BLM has now chosen proceed in a manner that has ignored public participation and engagement in the agency’s NEPA process. As stewards of our public lands, more is required of BLM and its efforts to engage the public in the agency’s oil and gas leasing and development decision-making. The agency’s failure to consider and integrate public comments into the Final EA undermines the validity of BLM decision-making and its implementation of NEPA.