Bravos v. United States Bureau of Land Mgmt., Case No. 6:09-cv-00037-RB-LFG

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
Writing for the CourtROBERT BRACK
PartiesAMIGOS BRAVOS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, et al., Federal Defendants INDEPENDENT PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION OF NEW MEXICO, Intervenor-Defendant. WILDEARTH GUARDIANS, et al. Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT and UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, Federal Defendants, INDEPENDENT PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION OF NEW MEXICO, Intervenor-Defendant, CONOCOPHILLIPS COMPANY, WILLIAMS PRODUCTION COMPANY, LLC, and ENERGEN RESOURCES CORP. Intervenor-Defendant.
Docket NumberCase No. 6:09-cv-00037-RB-LFG,Case No. 6:09-cv-00414-RB-LFG
Decision Date03 August 2011

AMIGOS BRAVOS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, et al.,
Federal Defendants INDEPENDENT PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION OF NEW MEXICO, Intervenor-Defendant.

WILDEARTH GUARDIANS, et al.
Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
and UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, Federal Defendants,
INDEPENDENT PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION OF NEW MEXICO, Intervenor-Defendant,
CONOCOPHILLIPS COMPANY, WILLIAMS PRODUCTION COMPANY, LLC,
and ENERGEN RESOURCES CORP.
Intervenor-Defendant.

Case No. 6:09-cv-00037-RB-LFG
Case No. 6:09-cv-00414-RB-LFG

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO

Dated: August 3, 2011


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Petition for Review of Agency Action. (Doc. 79.) Plaintiffs assert the United States Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service violated federal law by authorizing oil and gas leasing in the San Juan Basin and the Jicarilla Ranger District of northwestern New Mexico. Having reviewed the record, carefully considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and having otherwise been fully informed, the Court denies Plaintiffs' Petition for Review of Agency Action (Doc. 79), denies Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relieve (Doc. 79), and dismisses all counts of Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Doc. 40, Case No. 6:09-cv-00414-RB/LFG).

PARTIES

I. PLAINTIFFS

The Plaintiffs in this matter are several citizen environmental groups. Plaintiff WILDEARTH GUARDIANS is a non-profit conservation organization with offices in New Mexico and Colorado. The organization has approximately 4,500 members. The organization's goals are to reduce air pollution and to protect the environment and the public's health. Plaintiff DINÉ CAREis an all Navajo non-profit organization incorporated in the Navajo Nation. The organization works to empower Navajo communities, protect the environment, and promote sustainable development. Plaintiff CARSON FOREST WATCH is a volunteer citizens environmental group based in Peñasco, New Mexico that monitors forest management practices in New Mexico and Colorado.

II. FEDERAL DEFENDANTS

Federal Defendants are two United States administrative agencies whose actions are challenged as being arbitrary and capricious. The UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT (BLM) is an agency within the Department of the Interior and is responsible for

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administering public lands and subsurface mineral estates underlying federal, state, and private lands. The agency's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Defendant UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (FOREST SERVICE) is an agency within the Department of Agriculture responsible for administering the nation's national forests and grasslands. Its mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

III. INTERVENOR-DEFENDANTS

Intervenor-Defendant INDEPENDENT PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION OF NEW MEXICO (IPANM) intervened to defend against Plaintiffs' challenge to BLM's approval of three quarterly oil and gas lease sales for the San Juan Basin of northern New Mexico in April, July, and October 2008. Additionally, several oil and gas lessees in the San Juan Basin— CONOCOPHILLIPS COMPANY, WILLIAMS PRODUCTION COMPANY, LLC, AND ENERGEN RESOURCES CORP. (LESSEES)—intervened to defend against Plaintiffs' challenge to the Forest Service's 2008 Final Environmental Impact Statement for Surface Management of Gas Leasing and Development in the Jicarilla Ranger District of the Carson National Forest (2008 EIS) and the accompanying Record of Decision (ROD), adopting Alternative B of the 2008 EIS and authorizing BLM to lease approximately 5,000 acres of National Forest System lands within the Jicarilla Ranger District.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This matter (Case No. 6:09-cv-00414-RB-LFG), hereinafter the Ozone Complaint, was consolidated with claims raised by Plaintiffs in a related matter (Case No. 6:09-cv-00037-RB-LFG), hereinafter the Greenhouse Gases Complaint. As these cases share the same administrative record and involve common questions of law and fact, the Court consolidated the cases, concluding that

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this would promote the interests of judicial efficiency without causing undue delay, confusion, or prejudice. (Docs. 50 & 57.)

The Ozone Complaint and Greenhouse Gases Complaint arose as challenges to agency action by citizen environmental groups. In the Ozone Complaint, Plaintiffs argue that BLM and the Forest Service violated federal laws and regulations by their approval of additional oil and gas leasing in the San Juan Basin which would contribute to ozone emissions, impact public health, and reduce visibility in the region. Plaintiffs WildEarth Guardians and Diné CARE filed timely protests contesting the BLM's approval of the three 2008 quarterly lease sales as arbitrary and capricious. (APR 128-166; JUL 95-124; OCT 110-239.) Additionally, Plaintiffs WildEarth Guardians and Carson Forest Watch timely appealed the ROD, which issued on December 18, 2008. (FS 27453-78.) The Forest Service affirmed the ROD on March 19, 2009. (FS 27483-99.)

On September 15, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Doc. 40 of Case No. 6:09-cv-00414-RB-LFG),1 asserting that BLM's approval of the three 2008 quarterly oil and gas lease sales and the Forest Service's issuance of the 2008 EIS and ROD permitting additional oil and gas leasing in the Jicarilla Ranger District of the San Juan Basin were made without sufficiently considering the potential environmental impacts of these actions on the San Juan County "air shed" (OC Doc. 40 ¶ 8), and therefore, these actions violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). (OC Doc. 40 ¶ 9.)

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Plaintiffs filed an Opening Brief: Petition for Review of Agency Action on June 3, 2010, requesting the Court (1) declare that BLM violated NEPA and FLPMA, (2) declare that the Forest Service violated NEPA and NFMA, (3) vacate the 2008 quarterly lease sales, (4) enjoin any oil and gas exploration or development activities on the leased parcels, and (5) enjoin issuance of any new leases in the Jicarilla Ranger District. (Doc. 79.)

Federal Defendants filed a Response on August 16, 2010, arguing that the BLM's approval of the quarterly oil and gas lease sales in 2008 did not violate NEPA or FLPMA, and that the Forest Service's 2008 EIS and ROD did not violate NEPA or NFMA. Accordingly, Federal Defendants request that the Court dismiss Plaintiffs' appeal of the agencies' actions and enter judgment in Defendants' favor. (Doc. 86.)

Intervenor-Defendants Lessees filed a Response to Plaintiffs' Opening Brief on August 16, 2010, intervening to defend against Plaintiffs' challenge to the Forest Service's 2008 EIS and ROD and requesting that the Court deny Plaintiffs' petition for review of agency action. (Doc. 84.)

Intervenor-Defendant IPANM filed a Response to Plaintiffs' Opening Brief on August 16, 2010, arguing that the BLM's decision to authorize the sale of the oil and gas leases did not violate NEPA or FLPMA and requesting that the Court dismiss Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice. (Doc. 87.)

Plaintiffs filed a Reply in Support of Petition for Review of Agency Action on October 8, 2010. (Doc. 94.)

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Ozone Complaint arose out of BLM's approval of three quarterly oil and gas lease sales in April, July, and October 2008 for thirty-three parcels of public land located in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico, and the Forest Service's 2008 EIS and ROD, approving oil and gas leasing on 5,000 acres of unleased land in the Jicarilla Ranger District of the Carson National Forest,

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also located within northwestern New Mexico's San Juan Basin. Plaintiffs complain that these actions violated NEPA, FLPMA, NFMA, and APA because BLM and the Forest Service acted without fully considering the effects of their actions on ozone concentrations, public health, and visibility in the region; therefore, Plaintiffs assert the agencies' actions were arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the law.

I. THE SAN JUAN BASIN

The San Juan Basin encompasses some 16,000 square miles, straddling the border of Colorado and New Mexico. The New Mexico portion of the Basin includes the entirety of San Juan County, the majority of McKinley County, western Rio Arriba County, and northwestern Sandoval County. (FS 26628; NEPA 3663.)2 This area is blessed not only with an abundance of wildlife, recreational opportunities, and natural and scenic beauty, but also with immense oil and gas resources.3 This abundance of natural beauty and oil and gas resources has created tension between those groups who live in the region or use the area for recreation, and the oil and gas companies that seek to exploit the mineral resources...

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