‘Arbitrary and capricious’: Federal judge throws out oil and gas leases on public lands

Calling the policy "arbitrary and capricious," the judge said there was significant evidence that the Bureau of Land Management was intentionally shutting the public out.

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A federal judge ruled against the Trump administration throwing out oil and gas leases on a million acres of public lands in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Five of these leases were on more than 800,000 acres of public lands home to the greater sage grouse along with many other animals and plants and could impact another 67 million acres in 11 western states.

U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush “rejected a Trump administration policy to sharply curtail public participation in oil and gas leasing decisions on public lands,” a press release stated. Calling the policy “arbitrary and capricious,” the judge said there was significant evidence that the Bureau of Land Management was intentionally shutting the public out.

“If the words ‘justice so requires’ are to mean anything, they must satisfy the fundamental understanding of justice: that it requires an impartial look at the balance struck between the two sides of the scale, as the iconic statue of the blindfolded goddess of justice holding the scales aloft depicts,” Bush wrote. “Merely to look at only one side of the scales, whether solely the costs or solely the benefits, flunks this basic requirement. BLM inescapably intended to reduce and even eliminate public participation in the future decision-making process.”

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project filed the lawsuit against the government in an effort to protect the greater sage grouse’s habitat. The animal’s dwindling habitat has caused the sage grouse to fall from around 16 million to less than 500,000 due to disease and development, EcoWatch reported.

“This is an enormous victory for greater sage grouse and hundreds of other animals and plants that depend on this dwindling habitat,” Taylor McKinnon, CBD senior campaigner, said in a press release. “The judge confirmed that it’s illegal to silence the public to expand fossil-fuel extraction. It’s a win for millions of acres of our beautiful public lands and a major blow to the Trump administration’s corrupt efforts to serve corporate polluters.”

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