A federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back sage-grouse habitat protections for special interests, which would have further opened the West to oil and gas leases, reports the New York Times.
Statement from Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project:
“The Trump administration’s work to roll back sage-grouse habitat protections was done at the behest of extractive special interests, plain and simple. Interior Secretary Bernhardt has continually sided with his special interest former clients and pals, while America’s outdoor heritage takes a back seat.”
This isn’t the first time the former natural resources lawyer turned-Interior Secretary Bernhardt has lost in court and it won’t be the last. The ruling affirmed that the administration’s reckless rollback of critical habitat protections was ‘designed to open up more land to oil, gas, and mineral extraction as soon as possible’ and ‘the effect on the ground was to substantially reduce protections for sage grouse without any explanation that the reductions were justified.’”
In March, the Trump administration announced a plan to weaken sage grouse protections, making it easier for extraction companies to development on public and protected lands. This decision came after a group of oil and gas companies sent then-Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt a ‘thank you’ letter for his work rolling back sage grouse protections.
This move would have impacted over 350 species that depend on the “big empty” of the sagebrush sea – habitat that drives over $1 billion in economic output each year from outdoor recreation alone. An analysis by WVP highlighted who benefits from the sage-grouse plan changes — many of the changes at Interior came directly from an oil and gas lobby’s wish-list, which was uncovered by WVP. Leaked documents revealed industries’ influence of Interior’s sage-grouse review.
Sec. Bernhardt, who describes himself as a ‘pretty sophisticated natural resource lawyer,’ has repeatedly attempted to skirt the law during his conflicted tenure at the Interior Department. In the majority of instances, the court has rightfully ruled against the actions taken by the former mega-lobbyist.
WVP previously filed suit for sage grouse related documents that uncovered the oil and gas industry’s influence on the Interior Department during the sage grouse review, including meetings and comments that have been previously shielded from the public.