Several conservation groups including the Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the Trump administration’s oil and gas plan for the Uncompahgre region.
“Today’s legal challenge is an important step toward holding the BLM and this administration accountable to our community, since they failed to do so in their plan,” said Scott Braden, interim Executive Director of the Western Slope Conservation Center, in a press release.
The lawsuit alleges that the Bureau of Land Management violated environmental laws and agency policies in adopting the plan. Conservations groups claim the BLM’s Uncompahgre plan is the result of political interference by the Trump administration and William Perry Pendley, acting bureau director.
Internal documents reveal that Trump administration officials at the national BLM office overruled local agency staff and ignored years of local public input in order to prioritize giveaways to the oil and gas industry.
Conservations groups say the plan prioritizes extractive industries over all other public lands resources and uses by opening up 95% of BLM land in the region to energy leasing while completely neglecting wilderness and other conservation values.
The plan which opens large areas of western Colorado, including the North Fork Valley, to oil and gas drilling sparked administrative protests by the state of Colorado, Gunnison and San Miguel counties, the town of Paonia, as well as a number of local elected officials and business owners.
Locals in the North Fork Valley say the pollution and industrialization of oil and gas development could harm the clean air and water, open space, and other values they rely on. While the local community had engaged in the planning process by creating a community alternative plan to protect their values, their voices were dismissed by the BLM.
State Sen. Kerry Donovan and State Rep. Julie McCluskie had requested that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt withdraw the plan and revise it to better protect the environment and the economy of the North Fork Valley. In addition, Sen. Michael Bennet also committed to helping the community find a path forward in light of the BLM plan.
“Our valley’s economy is powered by family farms, orchards, small businesses, and local ranchers. We insist that the federal government do better to protect our communities and our values, and we’re grateful that Senator Bennet agrees,” said Braden, Western Slope Conservation Center.
The suit was filed by the Western Slope Conservation Center, Wilderness Workshop based in Carbondale and The Wilderness Society in Denver. The conservation groups are being represented by Lizzy Potter and Todd Tucci of Advocates for the West, a nonprofit public interest law firm.