Judge Defers to Bureau of Land Management on National Environmental Policy Act Analysis of Cumulative Impacts on Climate Change

On August 18, 2020, a U.S. district court judge for the District of New Mexico upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) analysis of climate impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The case concerned BLM’s decision to authorize the lease of 68,000 acres of land in New Mexico for oil and gas development. Environmental groups challenged the decision under NEPA and other statutes, arguing that the government failed to consider the cumulative impacts on global climate change of greenhouse gas emissions and air quality from oil and gas development and failed to use the “social cost of carbon” metric. In deferring to BLM, the court noted the agency was not required to use the plaintiffs’ preferred method of evaluation and concluded that the plaintiffs were in fact concerned with policy choices, which is not the court’s role. Challenges to this decision are likely to follow.