Trump and Big Oil Have Some Bad Days In Court

The Sage Grouse Wins          Photo: Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune

Oil and gas companies have suffered several high profile unfavorable rulings in recent days.  A federal appeals court in California ruled that lawsuits against the major oil companies by San Mateo County and the city of Oakland for compensation for climate change impacts such as sea-level rise are not blocked by federal law from going forward in state court.  And a judge in Montana invalidated 440 oil and gas leases on federal land because the Interior Department did not adhere to an agreement between the agency and farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and energy groups to protect habitat for the sage grouse, which allowed the bird to remain off the endangered species list.

Why This Matters: The Trump Administration — trying to keep these California climate cases in federal court — asked the court to rule that the municipalities’ claims are preempted by the federal Clean Air Act. Meanwhile, the Montana judge held them accountable for running roughshod over other bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.  They simply can’t have it both ways — use our basic environmental laws to try to eliminate some legal challenges and then ignore similar laws when they want to help the oil and gas industry.

California Cases Go Forward

The California decisions give the municipal governments a much better chance of prevailing because California state law is much more favorable for holding the oil and gas companies responsible for the impacts of their actions.  According to E&E News, legal experts say the federal court decisions set an “important tone” for the broader legal fight about blame for climate change.  One expert explained, “The closer plaintiffs get to being able to collect evidence and present it to a court, the stronger the likelihood that at least one of the cases succeeds.”  Plus, the case also sets a precedent for similar challenges  — now it is clear that state law claims in other states can proceed in state courts rather than federal court.

Montana Leases Voided

As we reported, the same judge voided 247 oil and gas leases in early May holding that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) totally failed to meet its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act to look at the environmental impact of the leases that would have permitted fracking.  In this case, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, the judge found that the Bureau of Land Management did not do enough to avoid leases on land that is critical habitat for the sage grouse.  The sage grouse used to inhabit parts of 11 western states, but its numbers have plummeted due to oil and gas development on its habitat.  The attorney who argued the case for conservation groups, Michael Freeman, said in a statement, “It confirms that the Trump administration violated the law in bulldozing those commitments in its haste to sell off lands that are owned by all Americans to the oil and gas industry.”

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