California Sues Feds Over Plan to Open State to Fracking

(CN) – In the latest clash over environmental policy between the Golden State and federal government, California sued the Trump administration Friday over its plan to open over a million acres of the state’s public lands to oil and gas drilling.

The Bureau of Land Management released an environmental analysis in December concluding that hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas extraction in eight Central California counties would not conflict with the land management goals of the agency. According to the agency, fracking would cause no “undue” harm to the environment.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the Trump administration used only a small estimate of fracking sites to “hide the true environmental impact” of the plan. He said the federal government failed to fully account for an increase in smog, water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and earthquakes that will result from expanding fracking on public lands.

“We are suing the Trump administration once again for acting as if they are above the law,” Becerra said during a press conference Friday in Sacramento.

The BLM plan calls for opening 1.2 million acres of federally managed land for new oil and gas leases and 400,000 acres for fracking in eight California counties in the state’s Central Valley and Central Coast – Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.

Fracking involves the injection of pressurized liquid into surface layers of the earth, causing sections to break or fracture and release natural gas, oil or other desired materials from various deposits.

According to the federal lawsuit filed in the Central District of California, BLM’s environmental analysis relies on the “unfounded assumption” that “zero to four” hydraulic fracturing events will occur in the newly opened territory each year. California claims the feds also failed to consider “reasonable alternatives” that could limit or lessen the environmental impacts of fracking and new oil and gas wells.

Becerra noted seven of the eight counties where new oil and gas drilling are proposed already suffer from some of the worst air quality in the state, having failed to meet federal air quality standards for particulate matter, ozone or both.

“The federal oil and gas activity in the state happens near some of our most vulnerable communities, already disproportionately exposed to pollution and its health effects,” Becerra said. “Adding fracking to the equation will only make things worse.”

The plan to expand oil and gas drilling would also interfere with California’s legally mandated goal to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and to make all electricity in the state come from 100% renewable energy and zero-emission sources by 2045.

The state also claims BLM broke the law by giving the public only 45 days to comment on its proposal, instead of the required 90 days.

The 26-page lawsuit claims the Trump administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy Management Act and Administrative Procedure Act by failing to fully study environmental impacts, consider reasonable alternatives, identify ways to mitigate harmful effects, account for conflicts with state policies and provide an adequate opportunity for public comment.

The state seeks an injunction to block the Trump administration from opening new parcels of federally managed land in California to oil and gas drilling.

In an emailed statement, BLM argued its environmental analysis was thorough. The federal agency disputed the characterization that its decision opened new public lands to oil and gas drilling, and insisted California holds the power to permit all fracking within the state, including on federal land.

“The supplemental analysis did not make any new public lands or federal minerals available to oil and gas development, since the available lands have been open to oil and gas development for more than 30 years,” BLM spokeswoman Serena Baker said. “It also did not issue any new leases or approve any permits to drill. If proposed, those actions and the potential impacts would be addressed at the site or project-specific level in subsequent tiered environmental analysis. BLM manages less than 10% of oil and gas operations in California with the state managing the remaining 90%. The state of California permits all hydraulic fracturing activities in California, including those on BLM managed public lands.”

California is not the only entity to sue over the plan to expand fracking and oil and gas development in the Golden State. Earlier this week, a collation of environmental groups also sued the Trump administration over the same proposal.

The Trump administration also faces a separate lawsuit from environmental groups over its plan to open an additional 700,000 acres of federal land in Monterey and San Bentio Counties to oil and gas exploration.

In November, Gov. Newsom suspended new fracking permits on state-managed public land. That decision came after the governor signed a law in October to limit oil and gas development on state land.

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