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Defending the West
Updated: 4 hours 2 min ago

Organizations call on Biden administration to responsibly site solar development

Fri, 04/19/2024 - 10:57

The Biden administration is moving to the next development stage on a proposed plan that could reshape renewable energy deployment across the West.

Today marked the closing of the public comment period on the administration’s draft plan to update the Western Solar Plan. A coalition of climate, conservation, environmental justice, and tribal organizations submitted a letter supporting the update to the plan and urged the Bureau of Land Management to adopt the version of the plan known as “Alternative 5” as the best option for achieving its solar deployment goal while also prioritizing responsible renewable energy development by focusing applications towards lands that are both close to transmission and previously disturbed or degraded.

“Climate action is a positive-sum game, not a zero-sum game,” said David Woodsmall, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Through responsible planning, we can achieve a rapid transition to renewable energy while respecting wildlife, communities, and the ecological values at the heart of westerners’ appreciation for our iconic public lands system. We strongly encourage the administration to strengthen the Western Solar Plan in accord with our recommendations to ensure a rapid, equitable, and ecologically sustainable energy transition.”

“The Bureau of Land Management stewards high-quality acreage for solar development, and highly sensitive lands that are home to numerous species, critical ecosystems, cultural sites, and popular recreation areas,” said Josh Axelrod, senior policy advocate at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The agency’s landscape level analysis of solar development potential across the western U.S. provides a huge opportunity to double down on a directed development framework that guides efficient and much needed solar development away from sensitive lands and towards already disturbed lands within close proximity to transmission.”

“Updating the Western Solar Plan provides an opportunity for the BLM to make public lands part of the climate solution by ramping up solar deployment — and doing so responsibly. By guiding solar projects on public lands away from wildlife habitats, cultural resources, and other sensitive places and toward lower-conflict areas, we can better ensure that our urgent transition to a clean energy economy is faster, more responsible and meets our climate imperatives,” said Justin Meuse, Government Relations Director from The Wilderness Society. “The organizations represented in this letter reflect the diverse voices who care deeply about our nation’s public lands and we all understand the imperative role these lands play in the climate fight. Together, we can ensure our clean energy transition provides us with a more just, equitable and sustainable future we all know is possible.”

The proposed update to the Western Solar Plan is the latest move by the Biden Administration to speed our transition to a clean energy economy while conserving public lands. The draft aims to determine the acreage of federal public lands required for solar energy projects to achieve a net zero grid across all clean energy generation types. Previous BLM analysis has projected that figure at 700,000 acres needed by 2045 to achieve current and future national clean energy goals, long-term energy security, climate resilience, and improved conservation outcomes.

“Transitioning to clean and renewable energy and conserving public lands are both critical for taking on the climate crisis,” said Jackie Feinberg, National Lands Conservation Campaign Manager at Sierra Club. “Updating the Western Solar Plan is the perfect opportunity to outline a new path for renewable and clean energy development in the U.S. which increases our energy capacity, preserves fragile landscapes, and considers critical Tribal and local input before breaking ground.”

The draft plan examines different criteria, applied in five different versions, that would broadly focus siting applications toward lands with lower conflicts with wildlife, cultural resources, and communities.

“This plan has the potential to make solar energy development on public lands more efficient while preserving lands that are critical for bird conservation,” said Garry George, senior director of climate strategy at the National Audubon Society. “More than 300 bird species use America’s public lands during their life cycle—including Greater Sage-Grouse, Sandhill Cranes, and Burrowing Owls. Expediting solar PV on degraded lands close to transmission lines would avoid impacts to birds while making important progress on our nation’s clean energy goals.”

“We have a tremendous opportunity to combat climate change and protect the vast intact landscapes across the West, including our national parks,” said Matthew Kirby, Senior Director, Energy and Landscape Conservation, National Parks Conservation Association. “This solar plan has the potential to guide us toward a clean energy future that protects the delicate ecosystems and wildlife that share our public lands. We hope the administration considers the voices of communities deeply familiar with the intricacies of striking this crucial balance and look forward to working together to get this plan over the finish line.”

The coalition is also calling for a series of improvements to Alternative 5 in the final solar PEIS and Record of Decision to achieve a transformative and long-lasting plan. In particular, those improvements include:

  • Clarifying and updating exclusion criteria, guiding applications toward lands that are lowest-conflict and previously disturbed or degraded;
  • Programmatic design criteria and the development of regional mitigation strategies that avoid, minimize, mitigate, and compensate for any impacts of solar development; and
  • Continued meaningful and robust tribal consultation throughout the process.

With the comment period now closed, the BLM will review the input received on their draft PEIS and will work to finalize their updates to the Western Solar Plan.

“The Conservation Lands Foundation is a strong supporter of the Biden-Harris administration’s strategy to protect 30 percent of US lands and waters by 2030 and utilize our public lands for responsible renewable energy projects that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Kara Matsumoto, policy director for the Conservation Lands Foundation. “We can achieve both if we proceed with a “smart from the start” landscape-scale approach, ensuring that sensitive and significant areas are set aside for conservation, cultural resource protection, and recreation. New areas for renewable energy development must and can be balanced with conservation outcomes.”

Contacts:

David Woodsmall, Western Environmental Law Center, 971-285-3632, woodsmall@westernlaw.org

Ian Brickey, Sierra Club, ian.brickey@sierraclub.org, 202-675-6270

Emily Denny, The Wilderness Society, emily_denny@tws.org, 202-240-1788

Andrew Scibetta, Natural Resources Defense Council, ascibetta@nrdc.org, 202-289-2421

Megan Moriarty, National Audubon Society, megan.moriarty@audubon.org, 917-842-9820

The post Organizations call on Biden administration to responsibly site solar development appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Landmark federal public lands rule elevates conservation 

Thu, 04/18/2024 - 11:43

Today, the Biden administration’s Bureau of Land Management released a final rule elevating the role of conservation in public lands management to match uses like fossil fuel extraction, improving the balance of its multiple-use mission. The Bureau manages 40% of all public lands—245 million acres primarily in the western U.S. With this rule, the agency is exercising its longstanding authority and responsibility under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to conserve these public lands in the public interest. The rule has the potential to better align public land management to respond to the interwoven climate and biodiversity crises. 

“We applaud the Biden-Harris administration for seizing this opportunity to modernize public lands management for conservation and climate protection in the 21st Century,” said Barbara Chillcott, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “This change is a long time coming and will serve as a key tool to help the U.S. meet its climate goals. Because the U.S. and the world are decades behind in taking action to address the climate crisis, the Bureau must follow this path with all possible speed.” 

In 2022, WELC led a coalition of 30 environmental and community groups that petitioned the Department of Interior to pursue rulemaking to center public lands as the cornerstone of ecological and community resilience in the face of a changing climate.

“We are proud to have played a role in spurring this improvement for public lands through our petition for rulemaking, challenging bad oil and gas decisions, and furthering conservation of public lands for watershed and wildlife protection,” said Chillcott. 

The rule is wildly popular. Ninety-two percent of public comments supported placing public lands conservation on the same level as extraction. Eighty-two percent of voters in the Rocky Mountain West support a national goal of conserving public lands and waters in the next decade, including more than two-thirds of conservative Republican voters. In addition to public comments, Members of Congress, local elected officials, legal scholars, scientists, Attorneys General, former Bureau of Land Management officials, hunters and anglers and over 100 businesses, all support the Bureau’s Public Lands Rule. 

The rule upholds BLM’s core mission according to WELC experts, 8 state attorneys general, and 27 law professors. Valid existing rights to graze, mine, and drill will not be affected by the rule’s core provisions. 

Right now, public lands are, unfortunately, a major climate problem. For decades, the agency has favored extractive uses to an extreme degree, as exemplified by the 90% of its public lands the Bureau has made available for oil and gas leasing. Fossil fuel extraction from federal public lands is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate and community impacts. Interior’s highly permissive approach to oil and gas development of federal public lands and minerals has undercut the Biden administration’s ability to deliver on its climate commitments. Oil and gas companies own leases conveying the right to drill 26.6 million acres of federal public lands and minerals. Although nearly 53 percent of those leased acres are non-producing, 96,000 wells have already been drilled and Biden’s Interior has approved, without imposing any climate mitigation measures, an industry stockpile of more than 9,000 additional drilling permits.  

Contact:
Barbara Chillcott, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-430-3023, chillcott@westernlaw.org

The post Landmark federal public lands rule elevates conservation  appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Most Endangered Rivers Report for 2024 names rivers of New Mexico #1

Tue, 04/16/2024 - 06:00

American Rivers today named the Rivers of New Mexico #1 on its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that left virtually all of the state’s streams and wetlands vulnerable to pollution and harmful development.

The May 2023 Supreme Court ruling in Sackett v. EPA dramatically reduced federal clean water protections for streams and wetlands nationwide–arguably harming New Mexico the most of all the states. This federal action opens the door to devastating pollution and habitat damage, with potential harmful downstream impacts to the Rio Grande, Gila, San Juan, and Pecos rivers.

“Protecting New Mexico’s most precious resource–our rivers, streams, and wetlands–is at a crossroad,” said Tannis Fox, senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “With the Supreme Court’s dismantling of Clean Water Act protections, it is now up to states to fully protect their waters. Thank you to American Rivers for recognizing the heightened threat we face here in New Mexico. We hope this helps further galvanize public, legislative, and executive support for the state to fill the regulatory gap left in the wake of Sackett.”

“People depend on this water. We have depended on this water for hundreds of years. This is our tradition, this is our culture. We don’t want to be a people that loses its traditions because we haven’t taken the right steps to protect our rivers,” said Vicente Fernandez, acequia mayordomo and community leader. “Our acequia has been a vital part of our community. It provides water for irrigation and watering of animals, so the importance of this river is great. Without this river, we would not be able to survive. It is very important to our culture and our traditional way of life.”

“Santa Fe’s drinking water depends on strong protections for small streams that feed into the Santa Fe River and the Rio Grande. The Sackett decision has stripped away those protections and our residents are now at risk,” said Anna Hansen, Santa Fe County Commission.

The state’s commitment and proven record of protecting its clean water and remarkable natural resources is more important now than ever. The Sackett court decision scaled back national Clean Water Act safeguards to include protections only for “relatively permanent” streams, and wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to those streams. This means that streams that only run during the rainy season or for periods of the year after snowmelt– which is very typical in New Mexico – fall outside the Clean Water Act protections. And, in New Mexico, the majority of wetlands have an intermittent surface connection to streams or a groundwater connection, and therefore New Mexico wetlands–which provide important ecological services–are at grave risk.

In addition, because New Mexico doesn’t have a state surface water permitting program in place yet to ensure its rivers are appropriately protected, clean water advocates in New Mexico have called on the State of New Mexico to develop, fund, and implement a state surface water permitting program to protect at-risk rivers, streams and wetlands that lost federal protections due to the Supreme Court ruling.

“Anyone who lives here knows the importance of protecting our waterways. And our waterways don’t always have water in them, and we know that they only flow some times throughout the year. But that doesn’t mean they are any less deserving of protection,” said Beata Tsosie-Peña, Breath of My Heart Birthplace. “The Southwest is really vulnerable to losing these kinds of protections. Because our watersheds are so precious, any kind of impact to our waterways, whether they are a river system or a pathway into that river system, have to stay protected if we want our communities to stay healthy.”

New Mexico’s rivers and streams are the lifeblood of the state’s economy, environment, cultural history, and quality of life. In addition to sustaining life for plants and animals, rivers and streams provide a source of clean drinking water for a majority of New Mexico’s population. Clean water from rivers and streams is essential for New Mexico’s acequias, or community ditches, which are integral to New Mexico’s traditions and economy. A large portion of the state’s multi-billion-dollar recreation economy–which includes rafting, fishing, boating, and hunting–is dependent on healthy rivers and clean water.

“My father started our family’s fly fishing business over 40 years ago. Our success as a family and a business is directly tied to clean water,” said Nick Streit, owner, Taos Fly Shop and The Reel Life. “I take people fishing, and for people to have fun they need to catch fish, and fish need clean water and healthy streams. Waste treatment plants, old mining claims, all of these things can devastate a stream if left unchecked.”

“The Supreme Court ruling flies in the face of established science and ignores the value that small streams and wetlands have to their broader watersheds, communities, and economies, particularly in places with dry climates like New Mexico,” said Matt Rice, Southwest regional director for American Rivers. “The State of New Mexico needs strong public support to ensure we’re able to safeguard these streams and rivers for today’s communities and future generations.”

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers(r) report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

“The Rivers of New Mexico are vital lifelines and symbols of resilience and interconnectedness that must be protected to ensure a sustainable water future for both wildlife and communities,” Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury (NM) said. “As the Rivers of New Mexico are the #1 most endangered in the U.S., this isn’t just a local issue but a national call to action for sustainable water management and environmental stewardship. After the Sackett v. EPA decision left over 90% of New Mexico’s waters unprotected, we must create a statewide program that protects these vital lifelines.”

Several New Mexico rivers have been listed in past reports for issues ranging from outdated water management plans to mining and pollution. Most recently, these include the Rio Gallinas (2023), Pecos River (2021), and the Gila River (2019 and 2014).

American Rivers reviews nominations for America’s Most Endangered Rivers® from local groups and individuals across the country, and selects rivers based on three criteria:

1) The river’s significance to people and wildlife

2) The magnitude of the threat to the river and communities, especially in light of climate change and environmental injustice

3) A decision in the next 12 months that the public can influence

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2024

#1: Rivers of New Mexico  

Threat: Loss of federal clean water protections

#2: Big Sunflower and Yazoo Rivers (MS)

Threat: Yazoo Pumps project threatens wetlands

#3: Duck River (TN)

Threat: Excessive water use

#4: Santa Cruz River (AZ, Mexico)

Threat: Water scarcity, climate change

#5 Little Pee Dee River (NC, SC)

Threat: Harmful development, highway construction

#6 Farmington River (CT, MA)

Threat: Hydro dam

#7: Trinity River (CA)

Threat: Outdated water management

#8: Kobuk River (AK)

Threat: Road construction, mining

#9 Tijuana River (CA, Mexico)

Threat: Pollution

#10: Blackwater River (WV)

Threat: Highway development

Contacts:

Tannis Fox, Western Environmental Law Center, 505-660-7642, fox@westernlaw.org

Matt Rice, American Rivers, 803-422-5244

Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, 575-770-8327

Tricia Snyder, New Mexico Wild, 575-636-0625

Beata Tsosie-Peña, Breath of My Heart Birthplace, 505-927-1847

Kayleigh Warren, Tewa Women United, 505-927-4376

Dan Roper, Trout Unlimited, 541-841-0946

Vicente Fernandez, Acequia Mayordomo, 575-779-8569

Elle Benson, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, 575-915-6620

 

The post Most Endangered Rivers Report for 2024 names rivers of New Mexico #1 appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Final Biden oil, gas rule offers fiscal reforms, nothing on climate

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 11:59

Today, the Biden administration’s Bureau of Land Management (the Bureau) released its final oil and gas leasing rule. The rule contains welcome and decades-overdue fiscal reforms and provides discretionary guidance for best land stewardship practices, but falls short of managing a climate-compatible decline of oil and gas extraction on public lands. The Bureau declined to incorporate comments from 11 conservation groups–as well as many other members of the public-imploring the agency to address the climate crisis in this long-anticipated update to the country’s antiquated federal oil and gas rules, as such, it achieves some but not all the necessary legal reform to the federal oil and gas program.

The rule omits any climate action entirely despite President Biden’s Executive Order 14008 specifically requiring analysis and mitigation of the federal oil and gas program’s contributions to the climate crisis. The order states in part: “…the United States will exercise its leadership to promote a significant increase in global climate ambition to meet the climate challenge.” The Bureau claims the report and the final oil and gas rule satisfy Executive Order 14008 despite containing no climate provisions whatsoever.

“While we welcome the long-overdue fiscal and bonding reforms contained in the final rule, we are disappointed that, despite specifically requesting comment on how the rule should address greenhouse gas emissions, the Bureau of Land Management chose not to make any changes to the final rule in response to the many comments it received on this issue,” said Melissa Hornbein, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Bureau has ample authority to institute the ‘lifecycle’ approach to the federal leasing program we recommended, which would have set the stage for the scientifically mandated managed decline of the federal oil and gas program that is critical to addressing the climate crisis while complying with the Inflation Reduction Act’s requirements for future leasing. While bonding, royalty, and other fiscal reforms are welcome, the Bureau once again missed a critical opportunity to make a meaningful difference with respect to climate with this rule.”

The science is clear: there is no room for continuing “business as usual” on the federal mineral estate if humanity is to have a meaningful chance of curtailing catastrophic warming. Global fossil fuel production must decrease by approximately 6% per year between 2020 and 2030 if we hope to limit warming to 1.5°C. As the world’s largest fossil fuel producer and historic emitter, the U.S. is obligated to take a leadership role. The U.S. is currently projected to fall far short of its international climate commitments. Lawmakers, environmental groups, and the public have requested oil and gas phase-down measures in this rule.

“The climate crisis is a water crisis,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and legal director for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Our communities, Indigenous American nations, and endangered wildlife urgently need the government to take meaningful action to protect them from unchecked climate change being driven by fossil fuel extraction. While the rule takes some fiscal and environmental steps in the right direction, they are overshadowed by the complete failure to address the climate impacts of the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas program. It’s long past time to align climate goals with regulatory actions, including a realistic plan to phase out leasing of public lands to help ensure clean and safe water will be available for present and future generations.”

In our comments, we called for phasing out oil and gas production by about 2030 and suggested a “lifecycle approach” for the federal oil and gas program, which would have helped address the interwoven climate, ecological, and biodiversity crises. This lifecycle approach would have allowed the Bureau for the first time ever to actually acknowledge and respond to the climate impacts of federal oil and gas extraction at a local and regional scale, from pre-leasing through well shut-in, and, critically, to retain agency discretion to require producers and lessees to address these issues in real time as new information arises.

The administration’s rule seeks to geographically concentrate oil and gas leasing in areas with “high potential” for oil and gas recovery in an effort to limit landscape and wildlife harms. The Bureau never addresses the fact that this approach has “high potential” to actually increase greenhouse gas emissions from federal public land and focus environmental harms in already overburdened communities. The rule also fails to provide the agency with guidance on which interests to put first when ecology and human health values conflict with extractive industries.

“In Western Colorado, lands with high development potential for oil and gas continue to overlap with disproportionate local warming compared to the state of Colorado, the nation and the world. The connection between oil and gas production and climate is irrefutable, yet the Bureau of Land Management declined to include climate impacts and indicators in its review and preference criteria,” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “If not in the leasing rule, where and when is the Bureau going to give certainty to communities like the North Fork Valley in Colorado, where a community of farmers, ranchers, vintners, orchardists, recreationalists, and businesses have opposed new oil and gas leasing for over a decade, that lands exceeding local impact thresholds will be made ineligible for leasing?”

“The more we know about methane’s contribution to the climate crisis, the more urgent the need to act. It’s a huge disappointment that this administration ignored climate science,” said Anne Hedges, co-director of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “Improving the monetary obligations of this lucrative industry is a small step when compared to the heavy toll the industry’s methane pollution is having on our economy.”

The Bureau’s authority to manage public lands (the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976) stems from the property clause of the U.S. Constitution—the apex of the federal government’s authority. While the Supreme Court aims to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to act on climate, the Bureau’s considerable authority over mineral production on federal lands represents a critical opportunity toward securing a livable climate for future generations.

“Frontline communities suffer most from the impacts of climate change. They need more protection than this rule provides,” said Kelly Fuller, climate and energy program director at WildEarth Guardians.

Contacts:

Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-708-3058, hornbein@westernlaw.org

Natasha Léger, Citizens for a Healthy Community, 970-399-9700, natasha@chc4you.org

Lori Harrison, Waterkeeper Alliance, 703-216-8565, lharrison@waterkeeper.org

Anne Hedges, Montana Environmental Information Center, 406-461-9546, ahedges@meic.org

Kelly Fuller, WildEarth Guardians, 505-501-8125, kfuller@wildearthguardians.org

The post Final Biden oil, gas rule offers fiscal reforms, nothing on climate appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Conservation groups challenge federal decision to deny western wolves protections

Mon, 04/08/2024 - 00:01

Today, 10 conservation groups challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“the Service”) over its failure to list western wolves under the Endangered Species Act  (non-stamped complaint here, stamped complaint will be posted here when available). The Service’s “not warranted” finding ignores obvious threats to the species, runs contrary to the best available science, and relies on flawed population models for its determination.

“The Service’s finding seems to give the green light for states hostile to wolves to follow suit with Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming’s aggressive killing regimes if they are eventually delisted and transferred to state management West wide,” said Kelly Nokes, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the groups. “But wolves have yet to recover across vast portions of the West, and they exist in only small populations in the West Coast and Colorado habitats they are slowly reinhabiting. This legal challenge asks only for the protections needed for this iconic species to be rightfully restored across the West’s wild landscapes—protections that some states have shown only the Endangered Species Act can really provide.”

In its “not warranted” finding, the Service confirmed that a western U.S. distinct population segment (DPS) is a valid entity for listing consideration, but cites a deeply flawed modeling exercise to conclude there is no risk of extinction for wolves in the West either now or in the foreseeable future.

A 2023 study by Dr. Robert Crabtree and others found the Montana state population model was badly biased, overestimating total wolf populations by as much as 50%. These researchers found this flawed population model constitutes a “precariously misleading situation for decision-makers that threatens wolf populations.” In an earlier analysis, Dr. Scott Creel found that data used in both the Idaho and Montana population models violate the assumptions of the models, meaning population estimations generated by the models are unreliable. Yet the Service relied on these flawed population estimates to conclude wolves in the West are not at risk of extinction.

A second 2023 study by wolf geneticist Dr. Bridgett vonHoldt and others found wolf populations in the northern Rockies are losing genetic variability and below genetic minimum viable population levels at today’s populations. At present, wolf populations in California and the Cascade Range of western Oregon and Washington are far below minimum viable population thresholds, and Utah, Nevada, and northern Arizona, all of which have historic gray wolf habitat, have no wolves at all.

“The current killing regimes in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming put wolves at obvious risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, and this core population is key to wolf survival in the West,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is playing politics, pretending that the anti-wolf agendas of state governments constitute adequate conservation regulations and that the small and vulnerable condition of fledgling wolf populations elsewhere in the West somehow protect the species from extinction.”

“Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have become the poster children for what happens when politics trumps science,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “Science shows us the importance of intact pack structures, the vital role each family member plays. But these states are destroying wolf families in the Northern Rockies and cruelly driving them to functional extinction via bounties, wanton shooting, trapping, snaring, even running over them with snowmobiles. They have clearly demonstrated they are incapable of managing wolves, only of killing them.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to be the backstop for imperiled species like the gray wolf,” said Lizzy Pennock, carnivore coexistence attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “Instead, the Service decided that wolves in the Western U.S. do not qualify for federal protections, while Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming openly try to ‘manage’ wolves to the brink of local extinction. Wolves, and the American people, deserve better from this agency.”

“It’s deeply concerning to hear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to list gray wolves, a ‘sacred’ species to Native Americans in the western U.S., under the Endangered Species Act, while ignoring traditional sacred religious beliefs of Native Americans,” said Roger Dobson with Protect The Wolves. “It’s important to protect these intelligent and family-oriented predators to maintain ecosystem health, and to protect Native Americans’ ‘sacred religious beliefs.’ Hopefully, the Service will take steps to address these issues with its determination before it’s too late for these native wildlife species, and before violating Indigenous religious beliefs.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service committed to ‘immediately pursue’ emergency Endangered Species Act listing of wolves if any state allowed unlimited and unregulated killing of wolves, which Idaho has done since July 1, 2021,” said Suzanne Asha Stone, director of the Idaho-based International Wildlife Coexistence Network. “The Service has failed to honor its delisting plan just as the state of Idaho has failed to manage wolves ‘like mountain lions and black bears’ as they publicly swore to do before wolf delisting. Aerial gunning of animals, killing pups for bounties, and widespread traps and deadly snares have no place in responsible wildlife management today.”

“Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming know that they were let off the hook in their brutal and unethical destruction of wolves even acknowledged as such by the Service,” said KC York, founder and president of Trap Free Montana. “They set the stage for other states to follow.  Despite the best available science, the USFWS turned their backs on the Northern Rockies region gray wolves. Within just 60 days since the USFWS failed to relist them, we are already witnessing the disturbing onset of giving the fox the key to the hen house and abandoning the farm. The maltreatment is now destined to worsen for these wolves and other indiscriminate species, through overt, deceptive, well-orchestrated, secretive, and legal actions.”

“The Biden administration and its Fish and Wildlife Service are complicit in the horrific war on wolves being waged by the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. “Idaho is fighting to open airstrips all over the backcountry, including in designated Wilderness, to get more hunters to wipe out wolves in their most remote hideouts. Montana is resorting to night hunting and shooting over bait and Wyoming has simply declared an open season. It’s unfortunate that citizens have to turn to the courts, but it seems that like their state counterparts, federal officials have lost all reverence or respect for these iconic wilderness animals.”

“Since wolves began re-establishing in western states after the indiscriminate killing of the 19th and 20th centuries, U.S. citizens have had the opportunity to directly observe wolves in these incredible landscapes we are privileged to share,” said Jeff Juel, forest policy director of Friends of the Clearwater. “And in understanding the wolf as our wild relative in this community of life, we urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to reject the primitive, fear-based impulses some states exhibit with their regressive management.”

Contacts: 

Kelly Nokes, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-613-8051, nokes@westernlaw.org

Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, 307-399-7910, emolvar@westernwatersheds.org

Suzanne Asha Stone, International Wildlife Coexistence Network, 208-861-5177, suzanne@wildlifecoexistence.org

Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense, 541-937-4261, brooks@predatordefense.org

Roger Dobson, Protect the Wolves, ‪714-660-7208‬, roger@protectthewolves.com

KC York, Trap Free Montana, 406-218-1170, info@trapfreemt.org

Lizzy Pennock, WildEarth Guardians, 406-830-8924, lpennock@wildearthguardians.org

George Nickas, Wilderness Watch, 406-542-2048, gnickas@wildernesswatch.org

Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406-459-5936, wildrockies@gmail.com

Jeff Juel, Friends of the Clearwater, 509-688-5956, jeffjuel@wildrockies.org

Julian Matthews, Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, 509-330-0023, protectingnimiipuu@gmail.com

Public domain photos for media use:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bridgerteton/35733530002/in/gallery-194844795@N04-72157721106923304/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowstonenps/49194987708/in/gallery-194844795@N04-72157721106923304/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowstonenps/38401254631/in/gallery-194844795@N04-72157721106923304/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowstonenps/38346221956/in/gallery-194844795@N04-72157721106923304/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/4907620339/in/gallery-194844795@N04-72157721106923304/

 

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Categories: G1. Progressive Green

National conservation groups respond to BLM methane waste rule, support action to limit waste of taxpayer-owned oil, gas

Wed, 03/27/2024 - 13:12

In response to the Biden administration releasing its final U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) methane waste rule, the Western Environmental Law Center, Environmental Defense Fund, The Wilderness Society, Earthjustice, and Western Organization of Resource Councils released the following statements today.

The final rules released today take steps to reduce waste from routine venting and flaring of gas at well sites.

According to the Biden administration, oil and gas operators vented or flared approximately 150 billion cubic feet of methane in 2019 — or about $400 million of natural gas on federal and Tribal lands. That is enough natural gas to meet the needs of 2.1 million households, which is nearly as many households as in the states of New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming combined. If that gas were captured, it could generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for states and tribes to fund education, infrastructure, and health services.

“Eliminating waste from routine venting and flaring of associated gas conserves domestic energy resources, ensures taxpayers benefit from the development of publicly-owned minerals, lessens oil and gas production’s negative impact on the climate, and protects the health of frontline communities,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “The health risks increase the closer people live, work, and go to school near oil and gas facilities – it’s crucial federal agencies move forward on strong implementation and enforcement of these new rules.”

“Strong Interior Department methane waste rules are integral for the United States to protect taxpayers from wasted energy resources,” said Jon Goldstein, Senior Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, EDF. “Taking action to limit methane waste on public lands offers a win-win-win for taxpayers, producers and communities harmed by this waste and associated pollution.”

The waste of natural gas through venting and flaring on federal and Tribal lands has been a persistent problem for decades.

“Methane from oil and gas development on public lands harms communities, invaluable natural resources, and the climate,” said Ben Tettlebaum, Director and Senior Staff Attorney at The Wilderness Society. “This rule takes steps to reduce methane waste from venting and flaring, which not only makes good economic sense, but also has conservation and climate benefits.”

“When oil and gas operators leak, vent or flare methane, taxpayers and communities suffer,” said Robin Cooley, Deputy Managing Attorney, Rocky Mountain Office, Earthjustice. “BLM has a critical role to play in reducing oil and gas waste.  Along with EPA’s new rules to control methane pollution, it is vital for these federal agencies to swiftly implement and enforce rules to protect all Americans.”

Venting and flaring emit not only methane but also harmful pollutants including ozone- or smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous pollutants that have serious public health impacts on communities living in basins with oil and gas production or in proximity to federally-owned or Tribal minerals.

The impact of wasted methane extends beyond economic concerns. Tribal communities in North Dakota are particularly affected by methane waste, suffering not just from economic harm but disproportionate health impacts from venting and flaring. Representative Lisa Finley-DeVille (ND4a) co-founder and VP of Fort Berthold POWER, Western Organization of Resource Councils member and Dakota Resource Council board member said. “The BLM waste rule addresses the royalties lost from unfettered oil and gas production, but for my community on Fort Berthold Reservation, the fact that routine venting and flaring from existing and new wells is not eliminated means the continued waste of tribal resources. Not only do we lose out on revenue through royalties and taxes but we also have to pay the higher costs of healthcare due to exposure to the wasted gas. ”

BLM has authority and a legal responsibility to eliminate the waste of public resources. Reducing methane waste protects taxpayer resources,supports local economies and has important co-benefits such as reducing climate pollution and protecting public health.

In December 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized tougher clean air standards that, for the first time, establish protective limits on methane pollution from both new and existing oil and gas sources, including efforts to limit flaring from newly drilled wells.

Contacts: 

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-751-0351, eriksg@westernlaw.org

Kelsey Robinson, Environmental Defense Fund, 512-591-3404, krobinson@edf.org

Kerry Leslie, The Wilderness Society, 415-398-1484, kerry_leslie@tws.org

The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) uses the power of the law to foster thriving, resilient western U.S. lands, waters, wildlife, and communities in the face of a changing climate. We envision a western U.S. abundant with protected and interconnected ecosystems, powered by renewable energy, and cared for by communities brought together in an ecology of kinship.

One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 3 million members and activists and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is a network of nine grassroots organizations in seven Western states with 19,935 members, many of them ranchers and farmers committed to common-sense reform in agriculture, oil and gas development, coal mine reclamation, and rural economic development. Headquartered in Billings, Mont., WORC also has an office in Washington, D.C.

Dakota Resource Council’s mission is to promote sustainable use of North Dakota’s natural resources and family-owned and operated agriculture by building member-led local groups that empower people to influence the decision-making processes that affect their lives and communities.

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. It wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. Earthjustice is here because the earth needs a good lawyer.

The post National conservation groups respond to BLM methane waste rule, support action to limit waste of taxpayer-owned oil, gas appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Groups applaud Gov. for standing up for New Mexicans, vetoing low-producing oil and gas well tax exemption

Wed, 03/06/2024 - 15:18

Gov. Lujan Grisham has line-item vetoed a tax exemption in House Bill 252 that would have effectively forced taxpayers to pay “stripper well” operators’ costs to comply with the state’s methane waste and ozone precursor rules, rules designed to protect the climate and public health.The 29 New Mexico civic and environmental groups who formally urged the governor to veto this unnecessary and unsound tax giveaway today applaud her for holding strong against this proposed special interest handout to low-producing wells. The governor’s veto helps dispel the myth that “stripper wells” are run by struggling small businesses, when in fact more than half of all of such wells in New Mexico belong to major oil and gas companies.

“We commend the governor for standing up to this powerful, dirty industry and defending the public interest,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “The oil and gas industry’s appetite for taxpayer handouts and subsidies is endless. Stripper wells produce very little energy, but can create significant pollution that harms people and the environment. It is time to have a serious discussion about retiring and cleaning up these wells, not propping them up with additional tax subsidies.”

“A fundamental economic principle is that businesses should bear the external social costs they create. Despite special treatment for decades, this principle can and should apply to oil and gas businesses,” said Kayley Shoup, community organizer for Citizens Caring for the Future. “Oil and gas operators—not the public—should pay the compliance costs of reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations to protect our climate and to reduce toxic air pollutants that harm public health. A tax break to the industry that is polluting the air where my neighbors and I live in the Permian Basin was simply not warranted. The governor demonstrated leadership vetoing this tax giveaway.”

The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, the New Mexico State Land Office, and the New Mexico Attorney General all also identified pitfalls in this concept.

The groups signing the letter include the Western Environmental Law Center, 350 New Mexico, Albuquerque Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Center For Civic Policy, Chaco Alliance, Citizens Caring For The Future, Earth Action, Inc., Earthworks, Environmental Defense Fund, FracTracker Alliance, Indivisible Albuquerque, League Of Women Voters New Mexico, Moms Clean Air Force New Mexico Chapter, New Energy Economy, New Mexico Climate Justice, New Mexico Interfaith Power And Light, New Mexico Sportsmen, New Mexico Voices For Children, New Mexico Voices For Children Action Fund, New Mexico Wild, Progressive Democrats Of America – Central New Mexico, ProgressNow New Mexico, Prosperity Works, Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens, Rio Grande Indivisible, New Mexico, San Juan Citizens Alliance, See (Social Eco Education), and WildEarth Guardians.

Contacts:

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-751-0351, eriksg@westernlaw.org

Kayley Shoup, Citizens Caring for the Future, 575-302-7587, kayley.shoup.ccff@gmail.com

The post Groups applaud Gov. for standing up for New Mexicans, vetoing low-producing oil and gas well tax exemption appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

29 groups urge Gov. to veto tax exemptions for high-polluting, low-producing oil and gas wells

Fri, 03/01/2024 - 13:05

Twenty-nine environmental and civic organizations sent a letter to Gov. Lujan Grisham urging her to line-item veto parts of House Bill 252 that would create an oil and gas severance tax exemption for “stripper well properties” for the costs of complying with the state’s 2021 methane waste rule and 2022 ozone precursor rule. If signed into law, this bill would perversely give companies a tax break for costs incurred to protect the public against hazards of these businesses’ own creation.

In its analysis, the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee found the exemption could cost the state $17.2 million in revenue between fiscal years 2025 to 2028, reduce bonding capacity by $18.8 million over the same time period, increase the Oil Conservation Division’s annual operating costs by $200,000, and require two new full-time-equivalent OCD employees. This tax giveaway to oil and gas operators therefore comes at the expense of the severance tax’s permanent fund and agency capacity at the precise time the state should be leveraging its resources to prepare for the inevitable decline of oil and gas revenue and production.

“House Bill 252’s oil and gas severance tax exemption reflects well-founded public concerns that the political deck is decidedly stacked in favor of the oil and gas industry, not the people of New Mexico,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “The oil and gas industry secured this severance tax exemption in the shadows while gutting sensible oil and gas reforms backed by the Lujan Grisham administration and other state officials. Line-item vetoing HB 252’s oil and gas severance tax exemption provides Gov. Lujan Grisham with an opportunity to stand strong for the people of New Mexico.”

Several state agencies expressed concern with the severance tax exemption:

  • The New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department wrote in its fiscal impact report that the exemption “[w]ould set a precedent in tax policy that businesses may lower their tax liability to financially support complying with other business regulations and laws for operations. All businesses across all industries have business costs to meet varying laws, regulations and reporting. This would erode horizontal equity among taxpayers.”
  • The New Mexico State Land Office warned the exemption “[w]ould incentivize producers to continue operating poorly producing stripper wells [and] could result in the state/taxpayers incurring the legacy remediation and reclamation costs of the wells.”
  • And, as observed by the Attorney General, “[t]he Severance Tax Act and the Incentives Act already give favorable tax treatment to production from stripper wells.”

“A fundamental economic principle is businesses should bear the external social costs they create,” said Kayley Shoup, community organizer for Citizens Caring for the Future. “Oil and gas operators—not the public—should pay the compliance costs of reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations to protect our climate and to reduce toxic air pollutants that harm public health. A tax break to the industry that is polluting the air where my neighbors and I live in the Permian Basin is simply not warranted.”

The groups signing on to the letter include the Western Environmental Law Center, 350 New Mexico, Albuquerque Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Center For Civic Policy, Chaco Alliance, Citizens Caring For The Future, Earth Action, Inc., Earthworks, Environmental Defense Fund, FracTracker Alliance, Indivisible Albuquerque, League Of Women Voters New Mexico, Moms Clean Air Force New Mexico Chapter, New Energy Economy, New Mexico Climate Justice, New Mexico Interfaith Power And Light, New Mexico Sportsmen, New Mexico Voices For Children, New Mexico Voters For Children Action Fund, New Mexico Wild, Progressive Democrats Of America – Central New Mexico, ProgressNow New Mexico, Prosperity Works, Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens, Rio Grande Indivisible, New Mexico, San Juan Citizens Alliance, See (Social Eco Education), and WildEarth Guardians.

Contacts:

Tannis Fox, Western Environmental Law Center, 505-629-0732, fox@westernlaw.org

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-751-0351, eriksg@westernlaw.org

Kayley Shoup, Citizens Caring for the Future, 575-302-7587, kayley.shoup.ccff@gmail.com

The post 29 groups urge Gov. to veto tax exemptions for high-polluting, low-producing oil and gas wells appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Montana Organizations and Businesses Petition Public Service Commission to Consider Climate Costs in Utility Regulation

Tue, 02/27/2024 - 16:36

A diverse group of over 40 Montana organizations and businesses submitted a petition to the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) today to request that it adopt rules requiring consideration of climate change in its regulation of Montana gas and electric utilities. Montana courts have twice found that the state has an obligation to consider climate change in decision making. This petition asks the PSC to abide by Montanans’ Constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment which includes the right to a stable climate. With broad oversight authority over Montana utilities, the PSC makes decisions that can either promote or discourage continued utility investment in fossil-fuel infrastructure. Thus, the PSC has the most consequential role of any decision-making body in the state in determining Montana’s impact on the climate.

“PSC Commissioners take an oath to uphold our Montana State Constitution,” said Winona Rachel, Organizer with Families for a Livable Climate. “Montana families need them to do their job to protect both our wallets and our shared climate. Our courts have already ruled that our youth have a right to a clean and healthful environment. We owe it to ourselves and our children and grandchildren to ensure a livable future for the place we all call home.”

The PSC is an elected body charged with ensuring that utility customers have continued access to utility services that are affordable, reliable, and in the public interest. Five commissioners represent PSC districts across the state, serving as the last line of defense for protecting utility customers from monopoly utilities such as NorthWestern Energy, Montana’s largest energy utility. The PSC recently approved NorthWestern’s request to dramatically increase customers’ electricity bills and there is no end in sight. Montanans need more protection from profit-seeking and environmentally destructive utility decisions that could saddle them with higher utility bills and increase harm to the climate.

If the PSC fails to consider the economic and environmental consequences of climate change, NorthWestern customers will not only be forced to pay more for electricity, but will also endure further unaffordable and unconstitutional effects of a changing climate. Utility commissions in other states consider the climate crisis in their decision making. Montana can do so as well in a manner that protects consumers and the climate.

“After this summer’s historic ruling in the Held v. State of Montana youth climate trial, it is clear that all state agencies must act affirmatively to preserve and protect Montanans’ constitutional right to a healthy climate,” said Nick Fitzmaurice, Energy Transition Engineer with MEIC. “Burning fossil fuels for energy is the primary driver of our changing climate which is harming our environment and economy. As Montana’s regulator of monopoly utilities, the Public Service Commission is uniquely positioned to stifle climate impacts in the state and promote more affordable clean energy. It is the Commission’s constitutional mandate to fully consider climate impacts in its regulation of Montana utilities.”

The August 2023 ruling in the historic youth constitutional climate trial, Held v. State of Montana, declared that, under Art. II, Sec. 3 of the Montana Constitution, Montanans “have a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, which includes climate as part of the environmental life-support system.” (Held Order, p. 102, ¶ 7). The court also found that Art. IX, Sec. 1 of the Montana Constitution places “an affirmative duty upon the government to take active steps to realize this right.” (Held Order, p. 96, ¶ 45) Critically, the court determined that “Montana’s climate, environment, and natural resources are unconstitutionally degraded and depleted due to the current atmospheric concentration of GHGs and climate change.” (Held Order, p. 98, ¶ 50).

The Held decision addressed a Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) provision that prohibits state agencies from considering climate change. While the Montana legislature exempted the PSC from MEPA, the PSC’s constitutional obligation to maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment for present and future generations is clear.

“As young people, our only hope for a safe future where we thrive, raise children, play, dream, work, and create is in protecting a stable climate,” said Eva Molina, a volunteer member with Gallatin Valley Sunrise. “When those who claim to represent us fail to consider this life-dependent interest, we are devastated. The PSC is meant to protect their constituents. They must defend our right to a healthy environment in every decision they make.”

Under the Montana Administrative Procedure Act, Montanans have the right to petition state agencies requesting them to adopt new administrative rules. This rulemaking petition asks the PSC to include consideration of the economic, social, and environmental implications its regulatory decisions have on the climate.

Quotes from signing organizations and businesses:

“If we care about our health, our youth, and our future, and about legal obligations due to the legal ruling in the Held v MT case in 2023, the PSC must consider climate costs in their actions. The PSC is here to protect Montanans.” said Lori Byron, Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate,  “Climate is the greatest preventable threat to human health in the 21st century.” Lori Byron, MD, Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, 406-671-5824

“Droughts, floods, lost snowpack, extreme storms, and other natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more intense due to climate pollution. These impacts harm the livelihoods of our farmers, ranchers, and hunting and fishing guides, threatening the very foundation of Montana’s culture which we all love and hope to steward for future generations,” said Edward Barta, chair of Northern Plains Resource Council. “The PSC has a responsibility to uphold our constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, just as it has a mandate to protect Montanans from financial harm by energy utility corporations like NorthWestern Energy who continually seek to abuse their monopoly status. Considering climate change must be part of commissioners’ oversight on both counts.”

“Recognizing the threat climate pollution poses to our community and the harms we are already experiencing, Missoula established a goal of 100% clean electricity by 2030, consistent with the science and urgency the crisis demands,” said Abby Huseth, deputy director of Climate Smart Missoula. “But to achieve this goal, the Public Service Commission must do their job and ensure a level playing field for clean, renewable energy.”

“It shouldn’t fall to young people to hold the State of Montana accountable for preserving the livability of the only home they will ever have,” says David Merrill, senior field organizer for the Sierra Club Montana Chapter. “Climate change is a menace to their future and the Montana they love. Can there be any more fundamental obligation than passing on to them a planet that is livable if not improved? The ruling in Held v. MT is a solid advance in addressing the greatest threat Montana has ever faced. It should be celebrated.”

“As people of faith, Helena Interfaith Climate Advocates ask the Public Service Commission to consider the damaging impacts of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions in its regulatory decisions. The PSC must protect Montanans from the harm of pollution and global warming.” –  Dave Hemion, Helena Interfaith Climate Advocates

“If members of the PSC truly value what makes Montana, Montana, they will act on climate. Hunters, anglers, and all who spend time out-of-doors in Montana are experiencing first-hand the impacts of the declining snowpack, the drier seasons, disruptions to wildlife migration, the increasing severity of wildfires, and wildfire smoke. Anyone in a position to do something to acknowledge, plan, and adapt to these impacts has a moral imperative to act on behalf of this and future generations,” said Frank Szollosi, Executive Director of the Montana Wildlife Federation.

Contacts:

Isabel Shaida, Gallatin Valley Sunrise, 914-441-6110, isa.shaida@gmail.com

Winona Rachel, Families for a Livable Climate, 952-200-9888, winonarachel@livableclimate.org

Nick Fitzmaurice, MEIC, 406-443-2520 x 007, nfitzmaurice@meic.org

Legal Counsel Contacts:

Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice, 406-223-7781, jharbine@earthjustice.org

Barbara Chillcott, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-430-3023, chillcott@westernlaw.org

Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center, hornbein@westernlaw.org

The post Montana Organizations and Businesses Petition Public Service Commission to Consider Climate Costs in Utility Regulation appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

CAREER OPPORTUNITY: Litigation Assistant

Mon, 02/26/2024 - 11:38

Job Opening Announcement: Litigation Assistant
Reports to: Program Directors
Location: Physical WELC office in Taos, NM; Santa Fe, NM; Eugene, OR; or Helena, MT
Timeline: Job opening posted February 26, 2024; we will review applications on a rolling basis beginning on March 18, 2024 until the position is filled.
Note: Information is available below. Please apply through our ApplicantPro portal.

ABOUT THE WESTERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER
The Western Environmental Law Center is a leading nonprofit, public-interest environmental law firm rooted in the landscapes and communities of the Western U.S. We use the power of the law to foster thriving, resilient western U.S. lands, waters, wildlife, and communities in the face of a changing climate. Founded in 1993, WELC has been celebrated as an Outside Magazine Best Place to Work for the last five years, Oregon Business Magazine Best Nonprofit, Law360 Environmental Group of the Year, and Better Business Bureau Torch Award winner for ethics.

We envision a thriving western U.S., abundant with protected and interconnected ecosystems, powered by renewable energy, and cared for by communities brought together in an ecology of kinship. We achieve this vision with steady, strategic, and bold legal advocacy that turns the wheels of power at all levels of government.

We seek a Litigation Assistant to join our team at one of WELC’s office locations across the West. We strongly encourage people of color, persons with disabilities, women, LGBTQ+ applicants, and people of diverse lived experience to apply.

POSITION SUMMARY
The Litigation Assistant is a non-exempt, full-time salaried position responsible for providing litigation and administrative support to WELC’s senior attorneys in the Climate & Energy and Wildlands & Wildlife Programs. The position’s primary responsibilities include the following:

  • Assist attorneys in preparation and review of legal documents for filing:
    • Edit, cite-check, Bluebook, proofread, format, assemble, serve, and file legal documents in accordance with court, agency, and case-specific requirements.
    • Prepare tables of authorities & contents, certificates of service, summonses, civil cover sheets, as well as notices & routine motions (e.g., changes of address; pro hac vice admissions).
    • Draft correspondence, compile exhibits, appendices, excerpts of record.
    • Print and photocopy; prepare items for mailing; format documents for compliance with e-filing requirements as requested.
    • Fee settlement reports of attorney time and case costs.
  • Manage and maintain internal litigation tracking systems:
    • Maintain list of all active cases (court location, case number, attorneys of record, client list, case status, appeals and related information, case termination dates & outcomes).
    • Track and compute case deadlines and maintain WELC litigation calendars.
    • Maintain court-specific information, including filing checklists, and maintain and compile court-related filings.
    • Assist with bar admissions and registration fees and maintain list of staff attorney’s bar/court admissions and years in practice.
    • As needed, assist with CLE registrations, annual tracking, and reporting.
    • Collaborate with staff across the organization to improve litigation support for WELC.
  • Provide additional case and project assistance to attorneys with cases as need and opportunity arises. This could involve document and evidentiary review, client coordination, and other litigation and advocacy related tasks.
  • Manage legal research and document management accounts and systems (dockets, calendars, Rocket Matter, Westlaw, PACER, legal document storage/retention).
  • Manage migration of WELC legal documents and case files from individual attorney OneDrive storage into a shared file storage system and ensure compliance with WELC’s document retention policies.
  • Coordinate signing, filing, tracking, and processing of new matter forms and retainer agreements. Conduct conflicts checks for existing and new legal advocacy matters.
  • Schedule case-related meetings on request from attorneys and other program staff.
  • Assist with coordinating logistics for trials, administrative hearings, or other proceedings.
  • Partner with program and administrative staff to evolve WELC litigation support and institute best practices responsive to changing technology, norms, and rules.

The Litigation Assistant is a normal 40-hour week position based out of an existing WELC office, primarily working during Monday to Friday business hours, though some night and weekend hours may be required depending on case needs. Limited travel is required, including overnight and weekend travel. The position also involves standard office physical demands. WELC will provide all reasonable accommodations to the extent possible or required pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and applicable state law.

QUALIFICATIONS
We are keenly interested in considering a range of applicants with diverse lived experiences who approach the world with kindness, empathy, imagination, and vision. We will happily consider applicants who offer an equivalent or alternative set of qualifications to fulfill this position’s responsibilities.

  • At least 2 years of experience in a paralegal or related litigation support position.
  • College degree and/or paralegal certification preferred.
  • An unwavering commitment to accuracy and exceptional attention to detail.
  • Excellent research and analytical skills, including the ability to understand legal, factual, scientific, technical, economic, historical, and policy aspects of issues.
  • Excellent verbal, written, professional, and technical communication skills.
  • In-depth understanding of legal practice relevant to WELC’s work, including the rules and procedures in venues where WELC practices.
  • Expert user of software used to support litigation and program work, in particular the Microsoft 365 Suite (Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, SharePoint, Teams, etc.).
  • Highly organized with the ability to independently manage a varied workload, prioritize multiple projects in a fast-paced work environment, and adhere to deadlines.
  • Ability to work independently and proactively, take initiative, and solve problems, including a willingness to be flexible and adaptive when needed.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills, including the ability to foster effective communication, collaboration, decision-making, and mutual respect.
  • Desire to work on and be part of a team. This includes giving and receiving feedback and input to/from colleagues and active, constructive engagement in organizational discussions to advance WELC’s mission and contribute to organizational cohesion.
  • An understanding of environmental and social justice issues.
  • Demonstrated commitment to WELC’s mission and strategies and the public interest as well as a love for the land, waters, wildlife, and communities of the Western U.S.

BENEFITS AND COMPENSATION
WELC is an equal opportunity employer. We offer a flexible, friendly, team-based environment with immediate opportunities to shape organizational strategies, competitive salaries (starting salary range of $56,000 – $67,000 commensurate with experience and location).

WELC offers an excellent benefits package, including health, vision, dental, life, and disability coverage (with 100% employer paid premiums), a 401(k) retirement plan with a 4% employer match, and 22 days combined of paid annual vacation and personal leave on top of 13 days of paid holiday leave, paid sick leave, and a paid long-term leave policy (3 months sabbatical leave for every 5 years of employment).

TO APPLY
We strongly encourage people of color, persons with disabilities, women, LGBTQ+ applicants, and people of diverse lived experience to apply. Please submit the following as PDF attachments through our ApplicantPro portal:

  • 1-2 page cover letter addressed to Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Executive Director;
  • Resume;
  • List of 2-4 professional references.

Cover letters should communicate the applicant’s commitment to WELC’s mission and advocacy and their motivation to work in this position and public interest environmental law generally. Applicants are very strongly encouraged to tell us who they are as a human being, why they care about this work, and why they are interested in this position.

The post CAREER OPPORTUNITY: Litigation Assistant appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

CAREER OPPORTUNITY: Communications and Marketing Associate 

Fri, 02/23/2024 - 13:28

Career Opportunity: Communications and Marketing Associate
Reports to: Communications Director
Location: Physical WELC office in Taos, NM; Santa Fe, NM; Helena, MT; or Eugene, OR. Remote options will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Timeline: Job opening posted February 23, 2024; we will review applications on a rolling basis beginning on March 18, 2024, until the position is filled.
Note: Information is available below. Please apply through our ApplicantPro portal.

ABOUT THE WESTERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER 
The Western Environmental Law Center is a leading nonprofit, public-interest environmental law firm rooted in the landscapes and communities of the Western U.S. We use the power of the law to foster thriving, resilient western U.S. lands, waters, wildlife, and communities in the face of a changing climate. Founded in 1993, WELC has been celebrated as an Outside Magazine Best Place to Work for the last five years, Oregon Business Magazine Best Nonprofit, Law360 Environmental Group of the Year, and Better Business Bureau Torch Award winner for ethics. 

We envision a thriving western U.S., abundant with protected and interconnected ecosystems, powered by renewable energy, and cared for by communities brought together in an ecology of kinship. We achieve this vision with steady, strategic, and bold legal advocacy that turns the wheels of power at all levels of government.  

WELC seeks a Communications and Marketing Associate to join our team. We strongly encourage people of color, persons with disabilities, women, LGBTQ+ applicants, and people of diverse lived experience to apply.  

POSITION SUMMARY 
The Communications and Marketing Associate is a non-exempt, full-time salaried position responsible for communicating with the public, partner organizations, policymakers, and donors across all WELC programmatic work.  

The Communications and Marketing Associate will create digital content that is engaging, easy to understand, visually appealing, and aligned with our core values and image. In addition, the Communications and Marketing Associate will create content and implement an audience engagement strategy that uses organic and paid promotion to reach existing and prospective WELC supporters as well as key policymakers on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Bluesky, and X/Twitter. This work includes designing social media graphics, interpretation of social media and website analytics to improve our content quality and reach, and occasional website maintenance. This position will also work with our Development Team to promote WELC’s fundraising efforts on social media and be involved in occasional online fundraising initiatives. Opportunities exist for occasional press work to include drafting and distributing press releases.  

In furthering these responsibilities, the Communications and Marketing Associate will coordinate with WELC program staff and, where appropriate, serve as an active representative of WELC in coalitions and relationships with clients, partners, and allies to develop and implement communications strategies in support of these campaigns.  

WELC offers the opportunity to experiment with new, creative digital media efforts to contribute and grow our communications advocacy and work. The position requires strong attention to detail, a demonstrated ability to work independently, and the ability to develop and maintain strong, trusting, and effective relationships with WELC clients, partners, and allies.

The Communications and Marketing Associate is a normal 40-hour week position, primarily working during Monday to Friday business hours, though some night and weekend hours may be required depending on case needs. Limited travel is required, including overnight and weekend travel. The position also involves standard office physical demands. WELC will provide all reasonable accommodations to the extent possible or required pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and applicable state law.  

QUALIFICATIONS 
We are keenly interested in considering a range of applicants with diverse lived experiences who approach the world with kindness, imagination, and vision. We will happily consider applicants who offer an equivalent or alternative set of qualifications to fulfill this position’s responsibilities.  

  • Bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism, or other related field and 2 years of relevant work experience or equivalent. We are open to promising entry-level candidates, , especially those with diverse lived experience.  
  • Knowledge of western U.S. climate, conservation, and environmental justice advocacy issues.  
  • Lived experience within or past work in partnership with frontline or resource-dependent communities a significant plus.  
  • A commitment to conceptualizing and implementing communications strategies that further equity, inclusion, and justice, including through the just treatment and meaningful involvement of clients, partners, and frontline community groups and individuals.  
  • Excellent writing skills and knowledge of AP style.  
  • Experience with:  
    • Facebook, X/Twitter, and Instagram content generation and campaigns including messaging using an organization’s voice, targeting, A/B testing, metrics analysis, strategic advertising, and executing the respective best practices for these platforms.  
    • Creating social media graphics and data-based infographics. Design skills with Adobe Creative Suite a plus.  
    • Creating basic video content.  
    • Website content management systems (we use WordPress), including search engine optimization and Google Analytics.  
  • Solid project and time management skills with strong ability to work independently and proactively.  
  • Highly organized and intellectually curious.  
  • Willingness to be flexible and adaptive when needed.  
  • Demonstrated commitment to WELC’s mission and strategies and the public interest as well as a love for the land, waters, wildlife, and communities of the Western U.S. 

BENEFITS AND COMPENSATION 
The Western Environmental Law Center is an equal opportunity employer. We offer a flexible, friendly, team-based environment with immediate opportunities to shape organizational strategies, competitive salaries ($53,000-65,000 for this position, depending on experience and location). 

WELC offers an excellent benefits package, including health, vision, dental, life, and disability coverage (with WELC paying 100% of an employee’s premiums), a 401(k) retirement plan with a 4% WELC match, 22 days of combined paid annual vacation and personal leave on top of 13 days of paid holiday leave, paid sick leave, and a paid long-term leave policy (3 months sabbatical leave for every 5 years of employment).  

TO APPLY
Please email the following as PDF attachments through our ApplicantPro portal:  

  • 1-2-page cover letter addressed to Brian Sweeney, Communications Director;  
  • Resume;  
  • 2-4 professional references; and  
  • 3-4 work samples with at least one sample of content you created for a social media campaign, one sample exemplifying experience creating web content (interactive features a plus), and one sample of graphic design for social media. 

Cover letters should demonstrate the applicant’s commitment to WELC’s mission and advocacy, and their motivation to work in this position and public interest environmental law generally. Applicants are strongly encouraged to tell us who they are as a human being, why they care about conservation work, and why they are interested in this position. 

 

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Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Conservation groups initiate legal action against feds for failing to protect wolves

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 06:54

Today, 10 conservation groups filed their 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“the Service”) for its failure to list western wolves under the Endangered Species Act. The groups outlined the reasons why the Service’s “not warranted” finding, formally published in today’s Federal Register, ignores obvious threats to the species, runs contrary to the best available science, and relies on flawed population models for its determination.

“The Service’s finding seems to give the green light for states hostile to wolves to follow suit with Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming’s aggressive killing regimes if they are eventually delisted and transferred to state management West wide,” said Kelly Nokes, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the groups. “But wolves have yet to recover across vast portions of the West, and they exist in only small populations in the West Coast and Colorado habitats they are slowly reinhabiting. We will continue to fight for the protections this iconic species needs to be rightfully restored across the West’s wild landscape—protections that some states have shown only the Endangered Species Act can really provide.”

The finding confirms that a western U.S. distinct population segment, or “DPS,” is a valid entity for listing consideration, but then argues on the basis of a modeling exercise that there is no risk of extinction for wolves in the West either now or in the foreseeable future.

“The current killing regimes in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming put wolves at obvious risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, and this core population is key to wolf survival in the West,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Even if the states’ population estimates were defensible–and they aren’t, according to recent scientific analyses–the feds are underestimating the extinction agendas of anti-wolf state governments and the small and tentative state of recovering wolf populations elsewhere in the West.”

At present, wolf populations in California and the Cascade Range of western Oregon and Washington are far below minimum viable population thresholds, and Utah, Nevada, and northern Arizona, all of which have historic gray wolf habitat, have no wolves at all.

In 2023, a study by wolf geneticist Dr. Bridgett vonHoldt and others found that wolf populations in the northern Rockies are losing genetic variability and below genetic minimum viable population levels at today’s populations.

“Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have become the poster children for what happens when politics trumps science,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “They are cruelly driving wolves in the northern Rockies to extinction via wanton shooting, trapping, snaring, even driving over them with a snowmobile. Science shows us the importance of intact pack structures. Each family member has a vital role to play and they grieve each loss.”

A second 2023 study by Dr. Robert Crabtree and others found that the Montana state population model was badly biased, overestimating total wolf populations by as much as 50 percent. These researchers found that this flawed population model constitutes a “precariously misleading situation for decision-makers that threatens wolf populations.” In an earlier analysis, Dr. Scott Creel found that data input into both the Idaho and Montana population models violate the assumptions of the models, meaning that population estimations generated by the models are unreliable. Yet the Service relied on these flawed population estimates in concluding that wolves in the West are not at risk of extinction.

“The public trusts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be the backstop for imperiled species like the gray wolf,” said Lizzy Pennock, carnivore coexistence attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “The Service has an obligation to rely on the best available science in decision-making and should have seen through Montana’s use of flawed population modeling, not heedlessly accepted it as true. We deserve better from this agency.”

“It’s deeply concerning to hear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to list gray wolves, A sacred species to Native Americans in the western U.S. under the Endangered Species Act, while ignoring traditional sacred religious beliefs of traditional Native Americans,” said Roger Dobson with Protect The Wolves. “It’s important to protect these intelligent and family-oriented predators to maintain ecosystem health, and to protect Native American sacred religious beliefs. Hopefully, the Service will take steps to address the problems with their determination before it’s too late for these native wildlife species, before violating Indigenous religious beliefs.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service committed to ‘immediately pursue’ emergency Endangered Species Act listing of wolves if any state allowed unlimited and unregulated killing of wolves, which Idaho has done since July 1, 2021,” said Suzanne Asha Stone, director of the Idaho-based International Wildlife Coexistence Network. “The Service has failed to honor their delisting plan just as the state of Idaho has failed to manage wolves ‘like mountain lions and black bears’ as they publically swore to do before wolf delisting. Aerial gunning of animals, killing pups for bounties, and widespread traps and deadly snares have no place in responsible wildlife management today.”.

“The Service acknowledged the unethical and unfair chase means and measures that are slaughtering wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, but just gave them a get out of jail free card for it to continue and worsen,” said KC York, president and founder of Trap Free Montana. Furthermore, they base their dreadful decision on flawed population models overestimating wolf numbers and ignore research warning of the wolves in the region’s genetic decline.”

“The Biden administration has once again let down wolves and those Americans who care about them,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. “It has rejected every request to step forward when states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have implemented egregiously cruel and inhumane wolf eradication plans. Idaho proposes to kill 90 percent of its wilderness wolves, and that doesn’t alarm the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? It seems that like their state counterparts, federal officials have lost all reverence or respect for these iconic wilderness animals. It’s really a sad day.”

Contacts: 

Kelly Nokes, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-613-8051, nokes@westernlaw.org

Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, 307-399-7910, emolvar@westernwatersheds.org

Suzanne Asha Stone, International Wildlife Coexistence Network,  208-861-5177 suzanne@wildlifecoexistence.org

Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense, 541-937-4261, brooks@predatordefense.org

Roger Dobson, Protect the Wolves, 714-750-6878, roger@protectthewolves.com

KC York, Trap Free Montana, 406-218-1170, info@trapfreemt.org

Lizzy Pennock, WildEarth Guardians, 406-830-8924, lpennock@wildearthguardians.org

George Nickas, Wilderness Watch, 406-542-2048, gnickas@wildernesswatch.org

Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406-459-5936, wildrockies@gmail.com

Paul Busch, Friends of the Clearwater, 208-882-9755, foc@friendsoftheclearwater.org

Julian Matthews, Nimiipuu Protecting Our Environment, 509-330-0023, protectingnimiipuu@gmail.com

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Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Community stakeholders support NM Senate oil, gas setback memorial

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 06:21

A broad range of public interest advocates today applaud New Mexico Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart and Sen. Brenda McKenna for introducing SM 8, requesting the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department to study the risks to humans and the environment from proximity to oil and gas facilities (fact sheet here). The memorial asks the department to evaluate how to mitigate those risks by requiring oil and gas companies to locate new wells beyond a minimum distance (“setbacks”) from homes, schools, businesses and the surrounding environment and to recommend legislation addressing setbacks in the 2025 long legislative session.

Public interest groups were disappointed by the removal of setback provisions from HB 133 at the behest of oil and gas interests more concerned with profits than improving public health. In public comments before the legislature on HB 133, speaker after speaker lamented the removal of setbacks from the bill, emphasizing the importance of having space between polluting oil and gas infrastructure and homes, schools, hospitals, water resources, and other environmentally sensitive areas.

“Everyday Southeast New Mexicans see and feel the impacts of our state leadership choosing to put profits over people. Setbacks aren’t simply an issue that is out of sight out of mind for us when the legislative session ends, like they seem to be for many state leaders,” said Kayley Shoup, community organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future. “Thirty-four thousand children in New Mexico go to schools surrounded by oil and gas facilities. When those children grow up and leave our education system, they not only leave with an education but also with health problems such as asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, reproductive issues, increased risk for chronic disease, and sometimes even cancer. It’s clear that the majority of the state can quite callously ignore that reality if they live in an area where their child doesn’t have to sacrifice their health for their education and the education of others. It’s time leaders make robust setbacks a priority as oil production in the Permian continues to soar and more people are put at risk. We need leaders that actually live by the beliefs they claim to espouse.”

“We advocated for strong setbacks this year, and they were weakened. We advocated for keeping reduced setbacks in HB 133 as a step forward, and they were removed. Communities near oil and gas operations risk exposure to hazardous pollutants, and frontline communities and our most vulnerable—children and the elderly—are especially at risk,” said Tannis Fox, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The state needs to stand up for its people and not let oil and gas companies build health-harming infrastructure right outside our homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.”

“Earthworks strongly supports updating the Oil and Gas Act to include setbacks to protect New Mexico’s people, sensitive wildlife habitat and water resources, and the environment,” said Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson of Earthworks. “Oil and gas facilities are toxic, health-hazardous industrial facilities that are known to cause severe health issues, both acute and chronic, ranging from headaches and nosebleeds to increased risks of serious cancers. Our field advocates have filmed pollution from these facilities across the state, and no one should be forced to live with an oil well in their backyard or in their school’s playground. The state needs to put people over polluters, and keep these toxic, polluting facilities away from where we live, work, learn, and recreate.”

“People of faith and many faith leaders in New Mexico are very concerned for the health of communities, elders, children, those to be born, and our sacred creation around oil and gas facilities,” said Sr. Joan Brown, osf, executive director of New Mexico & El Paso Interfaith Power and Light. “We have an ethical responsibility to care for the common good and our neighbors. New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light works with faith leaders and communities in the Permian Basin and many express concerns and share stories of health impacts. Society is measured by how it cares for children and elders. We pray and work for protections.”

“As New Mexico is the second largest oil-producing state in the nation, we must do all we can to protect our communities from dangerous pollutants,” said Demis Foster, CVNM chief executive officer. “Ample research has shown that pollution from the oil and gas industry causes cancers, respiratory illness, and more. Enacting setbacks that create a buffer zone is a common-sense next step that will ensure our most vulnerable populations, especially children and the elderly, are protected from direct and harmful exposure to toxins. Additionally, setbacks must be in place to protect our watersheds, threatened and endangered wildlife, and fragile ecosystems from development and industrial pollution harm. We urge the legislature to pass Senate Memorial 8 so essential studies to establish setback distances can be conducted.”

“As we know, water is life,” said Amigos Bravos Deputy Director Rachel Conn. “In 2023 the Sackett v EPA  U.S. Supreme Court decision stripped federal Clean Water Act protections from the vast majority of New Mexico’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. Like other Western states, a large portion of New Mexico’s waters, those which lose protections under the decision, run seasonally or only in response to rainfall or are wetlands not connected to larger water bodies. The health of these smaller streams determines what happens in our larger rivers that provide drinking water, irrigate our fields, and provide recreational opportunities. As the December Shiprock spill demonstrated, oil spills can travel long distances through these smaller waterways and impact downstream communities. It is crucial that as federal regulations are stripped away, we as a state adopt common sense safeguards, such as water setbacks of oil and gas wells (minimum distance wells must be from waterways), to protect New Mexico’s waters and people.”

Research on the demographics of people living near active oil and gas wells finds that nearly 18 million individuals live within one mile of a well site, including disproportionately large numbers of communities of color, people living below the poverty line, older individuals and young children in certain communities across the U.S. and in New Mexico,” said Jon Goldstein, senior director of legislative and regulatory affairs with Environmental Defense Fund. “EDF supports efforts to protect communities from exposure to health-harming pollution caused by living in proximity to oil and gas operations.”

“Oil and gas development causes spills, leaks, and other incidents that adversely impact New Mexico’s environmental resources, including precious freshwater resources and wildlife habitat,” said Sally Paez, staff attorney for New Mexico Wild. “The federal Bureau of Land Management already requires operators to locate oil and gas facilities away from waters and sensitive wildlife habitat. New Mexico should meet or exceed these federal guidelines to protect our irreplaceable natural resources.”

Background resources:

  • Senate Memorial 8 fact sheet
  • Summary of science California relied on to pass setback laws (full report here)
  • More than 34,000 children live or attend school near oil and gas wells in New Mexico.
  • A nationwide study on 2016 data (before the Permian Basin oil and gas surge) found that oil and gas pollution worsened asthma for more than 410,000 people, induced asthma in more than 2,000 children, and caused 7,500 excess deaths. The pollution cost people $77 billion in health-related costs.
  • Another study found an increase in congenital heart defects in babies whose pregnant parent lived near oil and gas wells.
  • In 2023, the State Land Office banned new oil and gas drilling within one mile of schools on state trust land and ordered review of all existing oil and gas mineral leases within one mile of a school or other educational institution.
  • This study found that a child living within a mile of a gas well was 5-7 times more likely to develop lymphoma than a child living at least five miles from a gas well. Children diagnosed with any of the four studied cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumor, bone tumors) were four times more likely to live within half a mile of a gas well.
  • This study found children living near oil and gas drilling at birth were 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia between the ages of 2 and 7 than those who did not live near this oil and gas activity.
  • This study found a positive correlation between proximity to oil and gas development and birth defects in Ohio, which has experienced a large increase in oil and gas extraction, similar to that in the Permian.
  • Earthworks built this Oil and Gas Threat Map showing proximity of New Mexico residents and facilities to oil and gas infrastructure.
  • EDF built this map of people’s proximity to oil and gas infrastructure in New Mexico.
  • State data on oil and gas spills are available here.
  • Earthworks and Citizens Caring for the Future, a Carlsbad nonprofit, recently published videos illustrating the proximity of oil and gas infrastructure to homes, schools, and medical facilities in southeastern New Mexico (Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, also embedded below).

Contacts:

Tannis Fox, Western Environmental Law Center, 505-629-0732, fox@westernlaw.org

Andrew Forkes-Gudmunson, Earthworks, 507-421-9021, andrewfg@earthworks.org

Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, 575-770-832, rconn@amigosbravos.org

Sr. Joan Brown, osf, NM Interfaith Power and Light, 505-264-9966, joan@nm-ipl.org

Earthworks Video 1: Unmasking the Technology: Less Emissions, More Impact

Earthworks Video 2: Sparking the Change for Kid-Safe Schools

Earthworks Video 3: Health Impacts Unveiled: The Unseen Dangers in Our Neighborhoods

The post Community stakeholders support NM Senate oil, gas setback memorial appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Feds find western wolves unworthy of Endangered Species Act protection; conservation groups prepare for legal action

Fri, 02/02/2024 - 11:34

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) announced today that it will not list gray wolves in the western U.S. under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) finding them “not warranted” for federal protection. Today’s decision will allow Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana to continue their widespread killing of these intelligent, family-oriented native wildlife. Conservation groups are looking carefully at today’s notice and evaluating legal options.

“A handful of states are standing in the way of wolf recovery nationwide, espousing an outdated, anti-science, eradication mindset,” said Kelly Nokes, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Aggressive state policies promoting wolf killing in the northern Rockies states especially, are primitive relics that must change for wolves to reestablish their rightful place in the wild. The scientific community agrees wolf recovery is necessary for healthy western landscapes, and providing protections afforded by  the Endangered Species Act is an essential way to make sure that happens.”

Today’s decision responds to a petition to list the western U.S. population of the gray wolf submitted by 70 conservation groups in July 2021, after Idaho and Montana passed new laws to promote wolf killing. Since that time, hundreds of wolves have been killed each year in the core of the species’ range in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, diminishing population health.

“Wolves aren’t a political football, they are a native wildlife species key to balancing ecosystem health,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “It is obvious that wolves don’t have adequate regulatory mechanisms to protect them in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, where they are being targeted for extermination by state governments. The Biden administration had the opportunity to follow the science and the law, and ensure real recovery for the species. This is beyond disappointing.”

In 2011, Congress legislatively stripped wolves in the western U.S., primarily in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, of their endangered species protections, giving states management authority. However, the Service has the authority to relist the population if it finds the population currently meets the definition for a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

“Wolf populations are being destroyed by overzealous anti-wolf state officials. They brought back bounties on wolves and their young, unlimited trapping, snaring and hunting, and even aerial gunning of entire packs,” said Suzanne Asha Stone, director of the Idaho based International Wildlife Coexistence Network. “Today’s decision clears the way for states like Idaho to finish the job and kill them all. We have to ask the Biden administration: why did the American people bring wolf populations back only to see them decimated from the landscape just a few decades later?”

“It’s concerning to hear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to list gray wolves in the western U.S. under the Endangered Species Act while ignoring Traditional Sacred Beliefs of Native Americans,” said Roger Dobson with Protect The Wolves. “It’s important to protect these intelligent and family-oriented predators to maintain ecosystem health, and protect Native American Sacred beliefs. Hopefully, the agency will take steps to address the problems with their determination before it’s too late for these native wildlife species.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed in its role to protect the wolf in the northern Rockies for present and future generations,” said KC York, president and founder of Trap Free Montana. “The egregious, aggressive, and lax wolf regulations are easily destroying alpha pairs, juveniles, pups, dispersers for vital genetic exchange, and entire packs, wreaking havoc on their critically necessary social system and disrupting their ability to survive into the future and expand into their historic range.”

“Tragically, the wolf has become a pawn in a well-orchestrated campaign of disinformation,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “And Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have become the poster children for what happens when politics trumps science. What they are doing to wolves—wantonly shooting, trapping and snaring them or driving over them with a snowmobile—can only be desibed as animal torture. Science shows us the importance of intact pack structures. Each family member has a vital role to play and they grieve each loss.”

“Time and again, wolves keep serving as martyrs for political compromise and capitulation to bad-faith actors.” noted George Nickas, executive director at Wilderness Watch. “As martyrs, they die in service of this charade. The administration’s lack of courage to rise above politics and protect the lives of these animals—as the law requires—is unconscionable.”

“How much worse must so-called wolf ‘management’ policies be in the Northern Rocky Mountain states in order for the federal government to take action?” asked Lizzy Pennock, carnivore coexistence attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “With this decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed wolves, and has failed future generations of people who may never have the opportunity to hear a wolf howl.”

“Wolves play a key role in keeping ecosystems healthy by targeting diseased animals including deer and elk with chronic wasting disease,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Unfortunately, the states’, in the Northern Rockies, wolf management plans are nothing more than extinction plans.”

“This decision is a serious loss, not just for wolves, but American wildlife,” said Paul Busch, membership director for Friends of the Clearwater. If Idaho and Montana’s state legislators cannot meet their obligation to manage wolves ethically, then federal intervention is clearly necessary. One wonders what other states will do now that they know that federal agencies have no interest in enforcing the law.”

Contacts:

Kelly Nokes, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-613-8051, nokes@westernlaw.org

Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, 307-399-7910, emolvar@westernwatersheds.org

Suzanne Asha Stone, International Wildlife Coexistence Network,  208-861-5177, suzanne@wildlifecoexistence.org

Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense, 541-937-4261, brooks@predatordefense.org

Roger Dobson, Protect the Wolves, 714-750-6878, roger@protectthewolves.com

KC York, Trap Free Montana, 406-218-1170, info@trapfreemt.org

Lizzy Pennock, WildEarth Guardians, 406-830-8924, lpennock@wildearthguardians.org

George Nickas, Wilderness Watch, 406-542-2048, gnickas@wildernesswatch.org

Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406-459-5936, wildrockies@gmail.com

Paul Busch, Friends of the Clearwater, 208-882-9755, foc@friendsoftheclearwater.org

The post Feds find western wolves unworthy of Endangered Species Act protection; conservation groups prepare for legal action appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

HB 133 “Changes to the Oil and Gas Act” would provide communities needed space, climate gains 

Sat, 01/20/2024 - 08:53

Next week, the New Mexico House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee will consider HB 133 (fact sheet here), a governor-initiated bill crafted with the involvement of climate, environmental, and community groups as well as the oil and gas industry. The Western Environmental Law supports this bill as a positive step forward for New Mexico.

HB 133 would provide much needed updates to the 1935 Oil and Gas Act. According to Sidney Hill of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, “[t]he act no longer contains all the tools necessary to oversee the current industry and ensure robust environment protection.”

HB 133 would amend the Oil and Gas Act to better protect human health and the environment from oil and gas operations, better ensure that oil and gas companies properly clean up and reclaim oil and gas infrastructure, deter violations of the act by increasing civil penalties, and codify a 98% methane waste requirement into law to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s nationally leading methane rules promulgated in 2021.

“Representatives in EMNRD and bill sponsors Rep. Ortez and Rep. McQueen deserve kudos for running such an inclusive process with nearly 50 stakeholders to develop HB 133 into an eminently reasonable bill that would create a more just oil and gas program in the state,” said Tannis Fox, senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.

The science tells us that the closer one lives to oil and gas operations, the greater the health risks from emissions of hazardous and toxic pollutants. In New Mexico, a disproportionate number of persons of color, low-income persons, children, and seniors live near oil and gas wells. HB 133 would help reduce risks to frontline communities by establishing minimum “setbacks” for new wells. Oil and gas operations also present risks to New Mexico streams, wetlands, acequias, and habitat through spills.

This risk has intensified as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s extreme attacks on bedrock federal environmental laws, including laws that protect New Mexico’s rivers, streams, and wetlands from industry pollution. These setbacks would not apply to existing oil and gas infrastructure or Tribal lands and Tribal allotted lands, respecting their sovereign authority to make their own decisions regarding use of their resources.

In addition, the amendments would significantly improve bonding rates to reduce the taxpayer burden for cleanup of orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells, of which there are currently 1,700 in New Mexico. HB 133 would direct the Oil Conservation Division to promulgate rules providing for an increase of “blanket bond” levels from $250,000 to $10,000,000, better reflecting the true cost of well clean up and reclamation in New Mexico. The State Land Office, in 2021, determined that “New Mexico’s oil and gas industry is inadequately bonded to the tune of $8.1 billion.”

Across New Mexico, approximately 1,700 orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells threaten our air, land, and water. Oil and gas operators provide the state bonds as financial assurance to fund plugging and cleanup of wells if a company goes out of business or abandons a site. The average cost to plug a single well is over $100,000, rendering the Oil and Gas Act’s existing maximum “blanket bond” cap of $250,000—which is applied even if a company owns hundreds of wells–wildly inadequate. This inadequate bonding level means that state taxpayers are left to fund cleanups of orphaned and abandoned wells.

Additionally, HB 133 protects against the growing orphaned and abandoned well problem by providing new authority for the state to block the transfer of oil and gas assets, when a company has a “significant history of noncompliance with the Oil and Gas Act or its rules” or the transferee seeking to acquire the assets “lacks sufficient financial capacity to manage liabilities associated with oil and gas wells or facilities.”

HB 133 would also increase civil penalties for violations from $2,500 per day to $10,000 per day, and increase the penalties for violations that threaten human health and the environment from $10,000 per day to $25,000 per day, and eliminate the $200,000 cap on total, cumulative civil penalties. The bill would update administrative fees for the 21st century and allow future adjustments for inflation.

“We support this bill,” said Fox. “But make no mistake, oil and gas lobbyists and their legislator friends are actively trying to kill or weaken this bill in the hustle and bustle of a short legislative session. They’ve put corporate profits over the interests of New Mexicans who have suffered serious public health burdens from oil and gas pollution and harm to their lands and waters. The least they can do is provide assurances that they’ll clean up their mess without burdening taxpayers and be a good neighbor to people and communities. The time for action is now.”

Contact:

Tannis Fox, Western Environmental Law Center, 505-629-0732, fox@westernlaw.org

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-751-0351, eriksg@westernlaw.org

The post HB 133 “Changes to the Oil and Gas Act” would provide communities needed space, climate gains  appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Settlement parties urge feds to protect climate, wildlife with amendment of Trump-era oil, gas plan for SW Colorado

Mon, 01/08/2024 - 08:57

Two years in the making, the Bureau of Land Management (the Bureau) on Friday began its public scoping period for an amendment to a Trump-era resource management plan (RMP) for a 1.64-million-acre Uncompahgre Field Office “planning area” in southwest Colorado as required by three 2022 legal agreements (ours here). In the process for amending the 20-year plan, the Bureau will consider whether and where to allow oil and gas development, how to minimize harm from drilling to Gunnison sage grouse and big game, and management of lands with wilderness characteristics. The scoping period runs through February 20.

“The North Fork Valley has fought for over a decade to prevent leasing of public lands to oil and gas development around our homes, farms and in our watersheds,” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “We have seen some of the most extreme warming in the country, and our rare and irreplaceable ecosystem is under increasing climate and ecological stress. The Bureau of Land Management must do everything in its power to mitigate these stresses.”

While the former planning area of 2.2 million acres included federal minerals below U.S. Forest Service lands, the planning area for the amendment is significantly smaller and appears to exclude those federal minerals. This exclusion appears to be an effort to omit mineral estate underlying U.S. Forest Service lands, which comprise most of the high-development potential lands for oil and gas within the Resource Management Plan’s planning area. See a map comparing the larger planning area (inside green border) to the decision area (yellow) here. While the Bureau’s Colorado Field Office has taken the position that it lacks authority to close minerals underlying Forest Service lands to drilling, that interpretation is inconsistent with clearly established law.

“The Bureau of Land Management has both authority and a legal responsibility to make a decision for all Bureau mineral estate within the exterior boundaries of the planning area in order to comply with its obligations under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of public lands, taking into consideration the climate crisis,” said Melissa Hornbein, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “It should do so by meaningfully analyzing an alternative that closes federal mineral estate under both Bureau-managed surface, as well as U.S. Forest Service surface.”

Our 2022 legal agreement closed the planning area to new oil and gas leasing during the RMP amendment process. Additionally, the agency agreed to consider an alternative or alternatives that reduce future oil and gas leasing relative to even the most restrictive alternatives previously considered by the agency. Members of groups that previously litigated the Trump-era plan will continue to push the Bureau to consider a “no-new-leasing” and phase-down of fossil fuels alternative, and to hold the agency accountable to its undoubted authority to close the Bureau’s mineral estate underlying U.S. Forest Service lands as well as under the Bureau’s surface estate.

“This is a great opportunity for the Bureau of Land Management to listen to local communities and rectify misguided past decisions made by the last administration that prioritized oil and gas over all other uses,” said Peter Hart, legal director at Wilderness Workshop. “We’ll be pushing the agency to protect sensitive lands in the Uncompahgre Field Office planning area while scaling down fossil fuel development on these public lands.”

“It’s past time for the Bureau of Land Management to tackle the climate emergency by ending all new leasing and phasing out oil and gas extraction in the southern Rockies,” said Alli Henderson, southern Rockies director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Imperiled Colorado wildlife, from greenback cutthroat to Gunnison sage grouse, need our public land stewards to protect these wild places and not worsen climate change. This fragile ecosystem’s survival depends on the Bureau getting this right and phasing out fossil fuel extraction once and for all.”

“The Bureau of Land Management must seriously consider closing these lands to new leasing to protect sensitive resources and local communities, rather than protecting oil and gas industry profits,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, legal director at WildEarth Guardians. “We will continue pushing the agency to do the right thing for public lands and the climate.”

“The Bureau of Land Management must stay committed to a paradigm shift where public lands are valued for their cultural, recreational and environmental resources, not their climate-wrecking fuels,” said Kim Pope, senior field organizer at Sierra Club. “It can make Colorado a prime example for other western states on how these needed changes will work.”

Temperatures in the region have risen more than 2 degrees Celsius (nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit), drying Colorado River flows that support endangered fish, agriculture and 40 million downstream water users.

The region spans the northwestern San Juan Mountains, several rivers, the towns of Ouray, Telluride, Montrose and Paonia, and the North Fork Valley, whose organic food growers and communities have opposed oil and gas development. It also includes numerous threatened and endangered species, including the razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and Gunnison sage grouse.

“Lands managed under the Uncompahgre plan are essential conservation priorities if the vanishing Gunnison sage grouse is to have any hope of long-term survival,” said Delaney Rudy, Colorado director of the Western Watersheds Project. “Now more than ever, the Bureau of Land Management needs to prioritize the preservation of intact, functional Gunnison sage grouse habitat above private commercial uses of our public lands.”

“Gunnison sage grouse depend on healthy public lands, and expanding fossil fuel development would be deleterious to the health of their public lands habitat,”  said Sue Navy with Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates. “We hope the Bureau of Land Management will listen to the communities affected by this agreement and protect the wildlife and waters that are sustained by this landscape.”

Several analyses show climate pollution from the world’s already producing fossil fuel developments, if fully developed, will push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius. Avoiding such warming requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects and phasing out production to keep as much as 40% of already-developed fields in the ground.

Thousands of organizations and communities from across the U.S. have called on President Biden to halt federal fossil fuel expansion, phase out production consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and develop new rules under long-ignored legal authorities to serve those goals. This revision presents an opportunity for the Biden administration to support corrective action to help undo damage done by the Trump administration.

Contacts:

Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-708-3058, hornbein@westernlaw.org

Natasha Léger, Citizens for a Healthy Community, 970-399-9700, natasha@chc4you.org

Peter Hart, Wilderness Workshop, 303-475-4915, peter@wildernessworkshop.org

Alli Henderson, Center for Biological Diversity, 970-309-2008, ahenderson@biologicaldiversity.org

Delaney Rudy, Western Watersheds Project, 970-648-4241, delaney@westernwatersheds.org

Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, WildEarth Guardians, 505-401-4180, sruscavagebarz@wildearthguardians.org

Sue Navy, High Country Conservation Advocates, 970-349-5886, suenavy@gmail.org

Noah Rott, Sierra Club, 406-214-1990, noah.rott@sierraclub.org

The post Settlement parties urge feds to protect climate, wildlife with amendment of Trump-era oil, gas plan for SW Colorado appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

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