The Interior Department will plow forward with oil and gas lease sales in critical sage-grouse habitat, despite a federal judge’s ruling nullifying the Trump administration’s gutting of the 2015 cooperative sage-grouse habitat plans. The leases would allow drilling to occur on millions of acres of protected habitats across the West.
“Does Interior Secretary Bernhardt think he is above the law? The former mega-lobbyist is clearly willing to ignore court orders at the expense of our wildlife and public lands to benefit his former clients,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “This move proves, once again, that Bernhardt is all in for his former extractive industry clients and is running Interior like his own personal lobbying shop. Congress must rein him in because no one should be above the law, even in the Trump administration.”
The newly offered oil and gas leases disregard a federal court ruling that rejected Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s sage-grouse habitat plan amendments that weakened habitat protections and eliminated compensatory mitigation. The judge’s ruling said the administration failed to maintain the standards of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination that an Endangered Species Listing was not warranted.
Sec. Bernhardt was the architect of the revisions that weakened sage-grouse habitat protections across some nine million acres of public lands across the West, making it easier for extraction corporations to lease and develop public lands. The final rollback decision came after a group of oil and gas corporations and associations sent then-Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt a ‘thank you’ letter for his work undermining the 2015 habitat protections.
Several former lobbying clients of Sec. Bernhardt stood to benefit from the rollback of sage-grouse habitat protections, many singing the plan’s praises publically. Bernhardt’s former clients, including the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Safari Club, U.S. Oil and Gas Association, Samson Resources, and Ur-energy, all sought revisions that would make development in critical or protected habitat easier. Sec. Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm also represented clients who stood to benefit from weakened habitat protections.
Western Values Project previously filed suit for sage grouse related public documents that uncovered the oil and gas industry’s influence over Interior during the sage grouse review, including meetings and comments that have been previously shielded from the public.