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California v. Bureau of Land Management

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20074
Nos. 18-cv-00521-HSG and 18-cv-00524-HSG, (N.D. Cal., 03/27/2020) (Gilliam, J.)

A district court upheld BLM's rule that repealed a 2015 rule regulating hydraulic fracturing operations on federal and tribal lands. California argued that BLM's rationale that the 2015 rule was duplicative of state and tribal regulations was negated by the agency itself when considering the same evidence during the 2015 rule's rulemaking process. The court found that BLM adequately articulated a reasoned explanation for its change in position regarding the sufficiency of the agency's preexisting regulations and state and tribal regulations for hydraulic fracturing. The state also argued that BLM arbitrarily ignored many of the benefits identified in the 2015 rule when weighing the costs and benefits of the repeal. The court found that BLM explained how the record differed from the one that existed when the agency prepared the 2015 rule, due primarily to the existence of additional state and tribal regulations, and that this explanation sufficiently considered the foregone benefit of nationwide consistency. California and environmental groups next argued that BLM violated NEPA because it failed to take a hard look at the environmental consequences of the repeal, including the impact of using waste pits instead of tanks and impacts on tribal lands generally, and failed to prepare an EIS. The court found that because enactment of the 2015 rule was enjoined before it ever went into effect, its benefits and protections remained hypothetical and unrealized at the time the repeal was promulgated, and thus concluded that BLM was not required to conduct a NEPA analysis. Finally, the groups argued that BLM violated the ESA by failing to consult with FWS prior to taking action. The court found that BLM provided a rational connection between its position that the repeal would have no effect on threatened species on BLM lands and the facts presented in the record, and thus that the agency's conclusion was neither arbitrary nor capricious. It therefore granted BLM's motion for summary judgment.