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Montana Environmental Information Center v. United States Bureau of Land Management

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20160
Nos. 13-35688, (9th Cir., 08/31/2015)

The Ninth Circuit vacated and remanded a lower court decision that environmental groups lacked standing to challenge BLM's decision to sell oil and gas leases in Montana. Below, the groups claimed BLM failed to adequately consider climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gases in violation of NEPA before it approved the leases. The lower court ruled the groups lacked standing because they failed to establish injury-in-fact and causation. But in so doing, the lower court failed to consider surface harms caused by development of the challenged leases, instead focusing only on the climate change effects of such development. Although the groups' claims of procedural error relate to BLM's alleged failure to consider climate-change effects, the groups' injuries that resulted from that error need not. The only issue for standing purposes is whether the challenged governmental action would cause the plaintiff a concrete and redressable injury. The groups, therefore, may have standing to challenge BLM's sale of oil and gas leases on the basis of any concrete injury that is caused by such sale and that would likely be remedied by the sale's invalidation. This analysis requires consideration of which of the numerous leases, if developed, would harm the specific areas of land enjoyed by the groups' members. The court, therefore, remanded the case to allow the lower court to determine which leases the groups have standing to challenge, and directed the lower court to consider any actual injury stemming from surface harms fairly traceable to the challenged action.