with Paulina Firozi


A strange-looking bird is standing between the Trump administration's plans to sell more land for oil and gas drilling. 

More than a third of a million acres of land scheduled to be leased in Nevada and Colorado have been taken off the auctioning block -- at least for now -- because this chickenlike creature is squatting over those oil deposits. 

It's the latest example of how the Trump administration's efforts to open up more of U.S. land and waters to energy development have been stalled by the greater sage grouse. 

A federal court threw a wrench into the Trump administration's latest plans. With a rule issued earlier this year, it sought to change the 2015 policy put in place under President Obama to protect the ground-nesting bird, known for its eccentric courtship dances, throughout the 11 Western states it resides. But last month, a federal court in Boise, Idaho issued a preliminary injunction: U.S District Judge Lynn Winmill said federal scientists need to do more analysis about how the bird may be further imperiled. 

That means that for now, the Obama administration plan is in effect in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California and Oregon — seven of the 11 states with ever-scarcer sage grouse populations. 

Now we’re seeing the results of that ruling: The Bureau of Land Management's Nevada office halted December's scheduled sale of 332,000 acres after seeing that more than half encroach too much into sage grouse habitat.

The agency’s Colorado office came to the same conclusion last week, pulling about another 4,300 acres from auction in the northwest corner of that state, including some near the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.

“It seems to me that the Trump administration is overreaching in its ‘energy dominance’ agenda in its zeal to develop inside the sage grouse habitat,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, one of several environmental groups that sued to stop the sage grouse plan.

But a representative from the oil and gas industry says it is confident the parcels will be back on the auction once the case is resolved. “I’m not terribly worried,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance. “It’s just about complying with the ruling.”

BLM spokesman Derrick Henry said the agency “retains the discretion to decide when to offer parcels for sale.” 

The sage grouse’s numbers have dropped by as much as 90 percent due to mining, oil and gas drilling and other development within the sagebrush ecosystem. The Obama-era wildlife managers tried protecting the sage grouse through tighter regulation of miners, ranchers and other developers, but without going so far as to list the bird as endangered. The 2015 compromise divided environmentalists at the time.

The BLM's parent agency, the Department of the Interior, similarly paused its plans to expand offshore oil and gas leasing into the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic after an unfavorable federal court ruling out of Alaska.

— Bookmark this: Actor Mark Ruffalo will be featured at a Washington Post live event Tuesday about his film “Dark Waters,” which centers on an attorney, Rob Bilott, who fought chemical company DuPont over water contamination in West Virginia. Sign up here for a live-stream notification. Bilott is set to join Ruffalo and community organizer Emily Donovan to discuss the film.


— Trump vs. California: California led 22 other states in filing a legal challenge against the Trump administration to block its effort to revoke the state’s authority to set its own strict vehicle emissions standards. It’s the latest step in an ongoing feud between the most populous state and the White House over how quickly cars and trucks in the country must become more fuel efficient, The Post’s Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report. “Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia have vowed to adhere to California’s standards if they diverge from the federal government’s. The District also joined California in the suit filed Friday.”

  • What California says: “We’ve said it before, and we will say it again: California will not back down when it comes to protecting our people and our environment from preventable pollution,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “No matter how many times the Trump administration attempts to sabotage our environmental progress, we will fight for clean air.”
  • What the Environmental Protection Agency says: “Asked about the lawsuit Friday, EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. But she said the administration had the right to push ahead with its revised mileage standards and make ‘it clear that federal law preempts state and local tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions standards’ as well as those for zero-emission vehicles,” Dennis and Eilperin write.

— House panel fulfills subpoena threat: The House Science Committee issued a pair of subpoenas to the EPA, fulfilling a threat to do so and calling on the agency to respond to document requests.

  • The subpoena: In a letter to EPA chief Wheeler, the committee’s chair Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) wrote the subpoenas come “after eight months of EPA delays and obfuscation in providing the Committee with information necessary for the oversight of the IRIS program and its review of the chemical formaldehyde.” The letter claimed the agency’s response has been “wholly lacking.”
  • The EPA’s response: In a statement, the agency insisted it has been “entirely transparent in producing the specific documents and information to Chairwoman Johnson in response to the issues raised in letters, questions during testimony, and numerous conversations with Committee staff. To accuse the agency of anything less is completely false…[I]t appears that the Chairwoman is more interested in pursuing a political attack on the agency and the Trump Administration, rather than actually working in good faith to obtain information from EPA.”

— House Democrats pass Ex-Im bill with provisions for an energy efficiency office: House Democrats on Friday passed the Export-Import Bank reauthorization bill on a 235-to-184 vote without an amendment that would have slashed language on energy efficiency and renewables. “Democrats are highlighting sections to establish a new office dedicated to the deployment of energy efficiency, renewable energy and battery storage technologies. The measure would also set a target for 5% of the Ex-Im Bank's financing to support renewable energy exports,” E&E News reports. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) had introduced an amendment that would have “added a requirement for analyzing energy affordability as well as environmental impacts before approving transactions.” The amendment failed on a 188-to-232 vote.

— Saudis won't market oil IPO in U.S.: Saudi Arabia’s state oil giant is not set to market its highly anticipated IPO in the United States, Reuters reports.  Saudi Aramco "had said in its IPO prospectus earlier this month that the offering of shares would rely on the 144A rule of the U.S. Securities Act, which allows a non-U. S. issuer to tap the U.S. market,” per the report. “The sources said Aramco will no longer rely on that rule, meaning it will not market the shares in the United States.”

  • The latest on the IPO: Saudi Aramco could be valued up to $1.7 trillion, which falls short of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s initial $2 trillion goal. But it could still be the biggest IPO in the world. “Aramco’s listing is due in December and the company said last weekend that it will sell up to 0.5% of its shares to individual investors. Speculation and delayed announcements on the public listing of the world’s most profitable company have riveted investors and market watchers since plans for the float were first disclosed three years ago,” CNBC reports.


Coming Up

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on pending nominations and legislation on Tuesday.
  • The House Oversight Subcommittee on Environment holds a hearing federal action on PFAS chemicals on Tuesday.
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on “Concepts for the Next Water Resources Development Act” on Tuesday.
  • The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on creating a climate resilient America on Wednesday.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee holds a hearing on reclaiming U.S. leadership in weather modeling and prediction on Wednesday.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the Energy Department’s role in addressing climate change on Wednesday.


— Another week, another Jane Fonda climate protest: The two-time Academy Award-winning actress participated in a sixth straight week of climate demonstrations at the U.S. Capitol, but this time she remained on the sidelines to avoid being arrested, Entertainment Weekly reports. Fonda wrote in a blog post earlier this month that she could spend 90 days in jail if she’s arrested again, “because I’ve had 4 arrests in a short period of time and I have a court date coming up mid-November concerning those arrests.”

From journalist Sonia Dridi: