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San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council v. United States Bureau of Land Management

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 19, 2015

SAN LUIS VALLEY ECOSYSTEM COUNCIL and CONEJOS COUNTY CLEAN WATER, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, and ANDREW ARCHULETA, in his official capacity as Field Manager, San Luis Valley Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, Defendants.

ORDER

RAYMOND P. MOORE, District Judge.

This matter involves a challenge, pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq., to Defendants' alleged "failure to fulfill their public disclosure and informed decisionmaking duties under the National Environmental Policy Act [(NEPA')], ] 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq. " (ECF No. 1 ¶ 1; ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 1.) The challenged decision occurred on January 6, 2014, when Defendants (collectively "BLM") "approved a proposed oil and gas well, known as San Francisco Creek #1 (SFC #1' or proposed project') on federally leased minerals just south of Del Norte, Colorado." (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 2, 53; ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 2, 53.) Plaintiffs' claims arise under NEPA, the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 ("MLA"), 30 U.S.C. §§ 181 et seq., and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act ("FLPMA"), 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701 et seq.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' "First Motion to Amend Complaint." (ECF No. 21.) Plaintiffs "request leave to amend with a claim specifically identifying the basis to invalidate the federal mineral lease that Plaintiffs intended to include within the claims in the original complaint, and particularly Claims One and Seven." (ECF No. 21 at 1.) Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' motion (ECF No. 21) on the basis that the "amendment is futile: Plaintiffs' claim accrued in 2006 upon the issuance of the lease and the six-year statute of limitations for NEPA and FLPMA challenges to the lease has run" (ECF No. 25 at 1). In reply and for the first time, Plaintiffs argue that the Court should equitably toll the applicable statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a). (ECF No. 26 at 10-15.) The Court permitted Defendants to file a surreply in opposition to Plaintiffs' newly raised equitable tolling argument. (ECF Nos. 28; 29.)

For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint (ECF No. 21).

I. BACKGROUND

A. Substantive Background

In 2006, Dan A. Hughes Company ("Hughes") leased the federal mineral estate underlying Bureau of Land Management land south of Del Norte, Colorado. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 12, 38; ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 12, 38.) On December 8, 2011, Hughes submitted to the Bureau of Land Management an application for a permit to drill ("APD") an exploratory oil and gas well in Rio Grande County, Colorado, called the SFC #1. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 45; ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 45.) On May 31, 2013, BLM issued a Draft Environmental Assessment ("Draft EA") for the APD and, after receiving public comments-which includes those from Plaintiffs-issued a Final Environmental Assessment ("Final EA") on January 6, 2014. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 48, 53; ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 48, 53.) Also on January 6, 2014, Defendants issued a Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision Record ("FONSI"). (ECF No. 1 ¶ 53; ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 53.)

On March 5, 2014, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit alleging eight claims for relief. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs bring an APA challenge to various agency actions taken to approve drilling and development of a federal oil and gas well in the San Luis Valley. ( See ECF No. 1; see ECF No. 21-1.) Through its Complaint, Plaintiffs seek that the Court enter an order that (1) declares Defendants' actions unlawful; (2) vacates Defendants' unlawful approval of SFC #1, including the lease and drilling approvals; (3) vacates the unlawful NEPA process used by Defendants; and (4) remands the matter to Defendant Bureau of Land Management for compliance with the legal requirements of the federal oil and gas leasing program consistent with NEPA, MLA as amended by the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987 ("FOOGLRA"), 30 U.S.C. §§ 188 et seq., FLPMA, and any other ruling in this matter. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 3; ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 3.)

In its first claim for relief, Plaintiffs allege that "[i]n deciding to lease, review, accept, authorize, and approve the drilling and development project involving the Conejos Formation aquifer, BLM unlawfully abbreviated the required NEPA process and did not prepare a proper NEPA document or properly approve SFC #1 via an [Environmental Assessment (EA')/Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI')] where significance was present." (ECF No. 1 ¶ 77; ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 77.) Further, Plaintiffs allege by Defendants' "fail[ing] to conduct a lawful NEPA process and [issuing] of the FONSI, BLM violated NEPA and its implementing regulations, acted arbitrary and capriciously, abused its discretion, and failed to act in accordance with the law, and therefore violated the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)." (ECF No. 1 ¶ 80; ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 80.)

In its second claim for relief, Plaintiffs allege Defendants' "failure to consider a reasonable range of alternatives [for protecting the Conejos Formation aquifer and other ground and surface water resources] is in violation of NEPA and NEPA's implementing regulations." (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 83-84; ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 83-84.)

In its third claim for relief, Plaintiffs allege Defendants violated "NEPA by failing to disclose and analyze the actions necessary to prevent [Unnecessary or Undue Degradation (UUD')] of the public lands, including reasonable mitigation measures" in violation of the APA. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 87-90; ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 87-90.)

In its fourth claim for relief, Plaintiffs allege Defendants violated NEPA and the APA by failing to "consider SFC #1's impacts on the San Luis Valley environmental justice community." (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 94-95; ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 94-95.)

In its fifth claim for relief, Plaintiffs allege Defendants "failed to provide a lawful statement of purpose and need" in violation of NEPA and its implementing regulations. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 98-99; ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 98-99.)

In its sixth claim for relief, Plaintiffs allege Defendants "considered only two alternatives in detail... [and that its] failure to consider... a reasonable range of alternatives... violates NEPA and its implementing regulations." (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 102-03; ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 102-03.)

In its seventh claim for relief, Plaintiffs allege Defendants "did not comply with the hard look' requirements under NEPA and NEPA's implementing regulations before approving the challenged action." (ECF No. 1 ¶ 110; ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 110.)

In its eighth claim for relief, Plaintiffs allege Defendants "failure to prevent UUD to wildlife and other resources" violates the APA. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 115; ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 115.)

B. Relevant Procedural History

On March 9, 2015, the Court granted, in part, and denied, in part, Plaintiffs' motion to supplement the administrative record. (ECF No. 20.) In the Court's March 9 Order, the Court held that "[n]one of Plaintiffs' eight claims for relief challenge BLM's 2006 approval of the lease underlying the APD which is at issue." (ECF No. 20 at 17 (emphasis in original).) Specifically, the Court found that the "2006 lease decision is raised only in Plaintiffs' first claim (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 75-80) but only as it relates to the approval of SFC #1." (ECF No. 20 at 19.)

On March 24, 2015, Plaintiffs moved to amend the Complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 21 at 1.) Plaintiffs submitted a proposed First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 21-1.) Plaintiffs' proposed First Amended Complaint adds "Claim 9 to frame the claim around the NEPA and FLPMA violations at the lease stage, which accrued and ...


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