CHC poised for lawsuit over BLM leases

January 30, 2013

Colorado, oil and gas drilling

* Update — Now with CHC Director Jim Ramey’s comments exclusively for From the Styx*

NorthForkValleyWeb_map

Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) is working with attorneys at the Western Environmental Law Center in preparation for a lawsuit in case the BLM refuses to withdraw over 20,000 acres in the North Fork Valley from their February 14 oil & gas lease sale.

In a letter to the BLM dated January 25, CHC Director Jim Ramey wrote: “Of course, deferral remains our hope and would prevent a costly and time-consuming lawsuit. However, if litigation is the only option that we are afforded, our attorneys at the Western Environmental Law Center are prepared to file.”

In a comment to the GJ Sentinel on Monday (1/27), Ramey said, “We sincerely don’t want to move forward with a lawsuit but we feel like we’re going to be given no choice but to pursue that as a last resort.”

Colorado BLM spokesman Steven Hall responded in the same article saying: “Any time the BLM takes any action there’s liable to be a lawsuit. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

At the core of the CHC legal argument is the BLM’s decision to use an outdated Uncompahgre Field Office resource management plan (RMP) based on coal mining.

Commenting exclusively for From the Styx, CHC’s Jim Ramey said,  “From a common sense standpoint, it makes no sense to follow a decision made in 1989 when making a commitment of vast acreage, interwoven with the private lands in the North Fork, to what could be decades-long oil and gas development. The BLM should focus on getting its Resource Management Plan revision finished in order to put smart, protective management in place for the North Fork’s public lands.”

The citizen group takes hope from the judge’s ruling last summer in response to a lawsuit challenging the 2008 Roan Plateau drilling plan. On June 22, 2012, U.S District Judge Marcia Krieger set aside the plan saying the BLM didn’t follow protocol when it approved a plan for oil and natural gas drilling in phases on the Roan Plateau.

BLM’s Hall told the Sentinel that Citizens for a Healthy Community oppose any leasing under any circumstances. “I don’t know that that leaves room for a lot of community collaboration” aimed at seeing if leasing makes sense in some cases, he said.

According to the Citizens for a Healthy Community website: “There’s still time to write to the BLM and urge them to withdraw the leases from the sale. A lawsuit is a last resort and the BLM still has the legal authority to remove the parcels from the lease sale.”

More information and a sample letter are available at the CHC website.

In Ramey’s letter to the BLM, he mentions public meetings “in Hotchkiss on Monday, January 21, and in Crawford and Paonia on Tuesday, January 22. While members of the public were allowed to attend these meetings, residents were not allowed to participate and were required to sit in silence and listen to the exchange between Town Council members and Protecting people and their environment from irresponsible oil and gas development in the Delta County region of Colorado the BLM staff.”

In her Goat Blog post in High Country News on Monday (1/28), “Lost in translation” blogger Emily Guerin describes a public meeting in Paonia on January 15, where BLM officials showed a failure to communicate above the “incessant heckling” of more than 200 infuriated citizens.

CHC’s Ramey had this to say about the crowd:  “Many of those who attended the Paonia, Hotchkiss, and Crawford meetings were our members. Citizens for a Healthy Community has called on the BLM, for over a year now, to host a public hearing or public meeting so that the public can speak directly with the BLM.  BLM has consistently denied or ignored our requests. Maybe that’s why so many of the concerned residents who attended the meetings were frustrated that BLM was coming to town, but still refusing to meet directly with the people of the North Fork Valley.”

It’s not much of a stretch to see the connection between the raucous January 15th meeting and the subsequent stomping on citizens’ free speech at the January 21st and 22nd meetings.

But here’s the real corker in Guerin’s post:  “Steven Hall, the BLM’s Colorado communications director, said he’s heard that supporters of gas drilling are afraid to speak up because of how vocal the opposition is.”

Ramey issued this response to Hall’s allegation:  “The people in the North Fork Valley remain united in opposition to opening up tens of thousands of acres of public lands in the North Fork to drilling and fracking. To contend that there is a significant number of folks in the communities here [who support gas drilling] seems to miss the point. There is a very concerned and vocal citizenry here who are opposed to opening these lands up for industrial development.”

The message is clear. The BLM and supporters of oil & gas drilling are afraid of free speech. If vocal opposition is all it takes to intimidate the BLM and oil & gas supporters, then we must be doing something right. Now more than ever we need to make our voices heard.

CHC’s Jim Ramey on BLM Lease Sale — click here to listen to KVNF radio interview

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