The legal fray over oil and gas drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine area continued Monday, with a new filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The battle over drilling in this area, held sacred by the Blackfeet, stretches back decades. The most recent phase has lasted two years, and centers on the Obama administration’s January 2017 decision to revoke drilling leases held there by Solenex LLC and W.A. Moncrief Jr.
In September, federal Judge Richard Leon ruled both companies’ leases had been improperly canceled and ordered them reinstated. The U.S. Department of the Interior, joined by the Pikuni Traditionalist Association and several local environmental groups, appealed.
But last month, Interior dropped its appeal of the Moncrief case — and then moved to have the appeal by the Pikuni Traditionalist Association and its allies dismissed as well.
Interior's argument hinged on one of the actions that Judge Leon prescribed in his order, when he wrote “this case is remanded to the Department of the Interior with the order that the Moncrief lease be REINSTATED.”
The government, in its April 12 motion to dismiss, wrote “remand orders generally may not be appealed,” and the intervenors who were continuing the appeal didn’t have the right to do so.
Not so, argued Earthjustice attorneys Tim Preso and Josh Purtle in their response, filed Monday. “The motion (to dismiss the appeal) is premised on the principle that intervenors cannot appeal an order remanding a matter to the government, but ignores that the district court also ordered Interior to permanently reinstate Moncrief’s lease,” they wrote.
“The court’s order thus controls the outcome of the Interior Department’s remand, and leaves nothing for Interior to decide.” Leon’s remand order, they concluded, was a final order that could be appealed.
As these two motions await a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals, reaction to the Department of Interior’s sudden reversal — from appellant to opponent of the appellants — is growing. Last week, Tim Davis, who chairs the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, wrote to Montana’s three representatives in Congress. (While the Tribal Business Council governs the Blackfeet Nation, it is not itself an appellant).
In turn, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, wrote to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, urging him to re-join the effort to protect this stretch of the Rocky Mountain Front. A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, said he had requested more information from Interior about the decision. Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Earthjustice's Purtle said it would be at least a week before a decision is reached.