Interior denies it ignored impact of 3,500 oil, gas permits on climate

Pump jacks operate at sunset in an oil field in Midland, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018. Picture taken August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
  • Environmentalists said permit approvals failed to account for greenhouse gas impacts on climate change
  • Department of the Interior called their claims "vague and ambiguous"

(Reuters) - The Biden administration broadly denied allegations it violated environmental review laws when approving thousands of oil and gas drilling permits, including its failure to consider how resulting greenhouse gas emissions would impact climate change.

The U.S. Department of the Interior on Monday pushed back on claims it shirked obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws to consider how permits for more than 3,500 oil and gas wells might contribute to climate change, as the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups alleged in a June complaint.

In a 50-page response, the government rejected the groups’ claims in broad strokes, asserting repeatedly that a range of allegations made by the group — including that there is an “ever-growing body of scientific literature” showing that greenhouse gases cause climate change and that the crisis is driven primarily by burning fossil fuels – were “vague and ambiguous.”

The government said it lacks “knowledge and information sufficient” to form an opinion about those claims. But that lack of data is part of the point of the lawsuit, according to Center for Biological Diversity government affairs director Brett Hartl.

The government’s approach to permitting fails to take a look at the cumulative impacts of oil and gas drilling on federal lands so it can be difficult to draw straight lines between the program and the harms of climate change, he said.

“In general, it's a mess. The way the government has looked at leasing as well as permitting has been a mess and continues to be a mess because there's never an answer to the question — what is the harm from what we are doing and that bigger sense of climate change?” Hartl said.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department declined to comment on the case but confirmed that permitting approvals have been continuing under the Biden administration.

Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, targeted at least 3,535 permits in New Mexico’s Permian Basin and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which they said accounted for three quarters of all onshore drilling approvals in Biden's first 16 months.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Interior, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 22-01716.

For the plaintiffs: Kyle Tisdel of the Western Environmental Law Center; Jason Rylander of the Center for Biological Diversity; and Daniel Timmons of WildEarth Guardians

For the government: Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim and Michael K. Robertson of the U.S. Department of Justice

Read more:

Greens say vacate 3,500 drilling permits in new climate change lawsuit

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