Court Blocks Trump’s Plan To Ease Bird Protections on Oil Lands

Credit: Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor, via Getty Images.
A male sage grouse outside of Rock Springs, Wyoming. A significant amount of money has been spent on this iconic bird to stop it from becoming an endangered species.

A federal judge on 16 October blocked the Trump administration’s plan to ease protections for an iconic bird that makes its home on millions of acres of oil- and gas-rich sagebrush lands, dealing a blow to government efforts to allow more drilling, mining, and logging in the west.

Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the United States District Court for the District of Idaho granted a preliminary injunction that suspends efforts by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to weaken protections for the bird, known as the greater sage grouse, in ten states.

While the halt is temporary, the judge indicated that the environmental organizations that brought the legal challenge—arguing that the Interior Department failed to consider reasonable alternatives and did not thoroughly examine the environmental consequences of its actions—is likely to prevail.

“Under these weakened protections, the BLM will be approving oil and gas leases, drilling permits; rights of way for roads; pipelines and power lines; coal and phosphate mining approvals and livestock grazing permit renewals,” Judge Winmill wrote. “It is likely that these actions will cause further declines of the sage grouse under the weakened protections.”

The Interior Department argued that new leasing is not going to happen immediately, but Judge Winmill said, “the court disagrees.” The Trump administration’s plan, he wrote, was “designed to open up more land to oil, gas, and mineral extraction as soon as possible. That was the expressed intent of the Trump Administration and then-Secretary Ryan Zinke. There is no indication that current Secretary David Bernhardt is proceeding at any slower pace.”

Read the full story here.

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