Nearly a quarter of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions come from fossil fuels developed on federal lands, according to a 2018 government study, and BLM manages the majority of that development.
"This is a big slice of the pie," said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been a plaintiff in many of the lawsuits challenging leasing, including the recent Utah case.
Dascalu-Joffe said her group and others have been pushing BLM to take an agency-wide approach to studying the climate impacts of energy leasing on federal lands. After pressure from environmental groups, BLM was beginning to take such a step for coal under the Obama administration when it temporarily halted new leasing in 2016. The Trump administration reversed that order.
"Across the board, the agency has systematically just ignored the need to do climate analysis based on sound climate science" dating back years, she said.
Instead, each BLM field office may take a slightly different approach to studying climate impacts, if they are studied at all. These studies generally look at only a particular set of leases, rather than the cumulative impact of federal leasing programs, which environmentalists say is a particular deficiency.
So, advocacy groups have turned to challenging individual lease sales across the Western United States, which contains the vast majority of energy development on federal lands. Climate impacts will likely also play into any challenges of upcoming plans to lease large areas in the Alaskan arctic to drilling.