Product Liability & Toxics Law News

California Sues Trump Administration Over Fracking Plans (4)

Jan. 17, 2020, 6:00 PMUpdated: Jan. 18, 2020, 1:04 AM

California and its environmental agencies are suing the federal Bureau of Land Management to halt a plan that would open up more than 1 million acres of land to oil and gas drilling, including fracking.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California asking a judge to set aside a December BLM decision that the state said would endanger public health and potentially damage water resources, infrastructure, and protected habitats.

“A growing body of evidence points to fracking as causing significant water and air pollution, harm to imperiled species, land subsidence or sinking, and low-level seismic events,” a news release announcing the lawsuit said.

A new management plan for the lands in question—which cover more than a million acres of public land in central California—was ordered as part of a 2017 settlement, court documents show.

The lawsuit claims the federal agency violated the National Environmental Policy and Administrative Procedure acts by not fully evaluating the impacts on communities and the environment. Specifically, a final environmental review relied on incorrect assumptions about the frequency of fracking, didn’t provide adequate public comment opportunities, and ignored the danger to millions of people living near new oil and gas wells, according to the news release.

The Bureau of Land Management said it was reviewing the lawsuit. The agency’s supplemental environmental analysis issued in December included the best available information, and the lands in question have been open to oil and gas development for more than three decades, the bureau said.

The analysis “also did not issue any new leases or approve any permits to drill,” BLM spokeswoman Serena Baker said in an email. “If proposed, those actions and the potential impacts would be addressed at the site or project-specific level in subsequent tiered environmental analysis.”

Becerra’s 35th Environmental Suit Against Trump

Federal oil and gas operations in California are concentrated near communities already living with poor air quality and the associated health effects like asthma, heart disease, and cancer.

“BLMs decision to advance this half-baked proposal isn’t just misguided, it’s downright dangerous,” Becerra said in a statement. “The risks to both people and the environment associated with fracking are simply too high to ignore.”

Becerra is representing his agency, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), California Air Resources Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California Department of Water Resources, which recommended that BLM withdraw a draft proposal in June to fully consider the implications. BLM issued a final decision in December.

This is the 67th lawsuit Becerra has filed against President Donald Trump or his administration and the 35th related to environmental issues, spokeswoman Tara Gallegos said.

A similar lawsuit was filed Dec. 14 by the Center for Biological Diversity, Central California Environmental Justice Network, Los Padres ForestWatch, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Patagonia Works, Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society.

Center for Biological Diversity Legal Director Clare Lakewood called the BLM’s plan a scheme to “unleash a frenzy of fracking and drilling on our beautiful public lands” and said in a statement it was encouraging to see the state fighting back.

“Californians won’t allow the oil industry to pollute our air and water and cripple our efforts to fight climate change,” she said.

The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

CAUSE OF ACTION: National Environmental Policy Act, Administrative Procedure Act

RELIEF: Injunction

ATTORNEYS: California Attorney General’s office

The case is State of California v. Stout, et al, C.D. Cal., No. 2:20-cv-00504, Complaint 1/17/20.

(Updated to include BLM comments, link to BLM's December decision.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at edooley@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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