Landon Newell, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • April 22nd, 2019

    For Immediate Release
    April 22, 2019

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552, steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (April 22, 2019) The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has filed a federal lawsuit challenging two decisions by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to offer, sell, and issue thirty-five oil and gas leases totaling 54,508 acres of public lands for development on the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments.

    The lawsuit, filed on Friday, April 19, 2019, aims to protect some of the most culturally and archaeologically rich public lands in the United States. These lands include cliff dwellings, pueblos, kivas, petroglyph and pictograph panels, and Chaco-era (circa 900-1150 A.D.) great houses. Numerous Native American tribes consider these sites sacred. The lawsuit challenges Utah-BLM’s March 2018 and December 2018 Monticello field office leasing decisions (March 2018 sale information here; December 2018 sale information here).

    “The Trump administration is following a well-worn path of ‘leasing first, and thinking later,’ the same approach taken by the George W. Bush administration’s ‘drill here, drill now’ policies,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This approach, which has riddled Utah’s wild and culturally significant public lands with leases and should come as no surprise given that it’s the same political appointee – David Bernhardt – steering the Interior Department.”

    The BLM, in its rush for “energy dominance,” ignored concerns raised by the National Park Service (NPS), Native American tribes, and the public, including SUWA. For the March 2018 sale, the NPS (BLM’s sister-agency in the Department of the Interior tasked with the management of nearby national monuments) submitted written comments condemning the BLM’s leasing proposal as being uninformed and ill-advised (see here). NPS explained that the BLM had “not fully evaluated” and had “not acted” to address its concerns regarding impacts of oil and gas development to national monuments including impacts to national monuments, dark night skies, air quality, water quality, and cultural resources, among others.

    The All Pueblo Council of Governors and Pueblo of Acoma both submitted formal protests of BLM’s December 2018 leasing proposal (see, here, here). They explained that the BLM had failed to consider and analyze impacts to historic and traditional cultural properties and national monuments, among other resources. The Hopi Tribe similarly requested that BLM not offer these leases for oil and gas development (See, e.g., here).

    “The BLM has placed the final pieces, completing its puzzle of oil and gas leases located at the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “And the BLM has done so without considering the ‘big picture’ impacts to national monuments and climate change and the surrounding landscapes, including impacts to dark night skies and the region’s rich cultural heritage.”

    The Obama administration had declined to issue new oil and gas leases in this same area, citing the need to collect and analyze additional information and data regarding cultural resources, potential impacts to national monuments, and greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The BLM never collected or analyzed that information and data. However, without having collected or analyzed the information and data the agency previously determined to be necessary, the Trump administration has resumed leasing in this contested area and proceeded to build a mosaic of leases on the doorstep of these national monuments (see here).

    At the same time it has rushed to open up more lands for development, the Utah-BLM has also dutifully implemented the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda. Among other things, the BLM has taken steps to (1) eliminate opportunities for public engagement in the agency’s leasing decisions, (2) eliminate the agency’s obligation to fully analyze site-specific impacts of leasing and development, and (3) eliminate any additional BLM-identified “burden” on oil and gas leasing and development.

    SUWA’s lawsuit challenges the BLM’s failure to fully analyze the potential impacts of its leasing decisions, including to cultural resources, national monuments, climate change, and lands with wilderness characteristics. SUWA requests that the court set-aside and vacate the BLM’s leasing decisions and prohibit the BLM from approving future oil and gas development on the leases. Photographs of cultural and archaeological sites located on oil and gas leases at issue in this lawsuit are available here.

    ####

  • July 24th, 2018

    Guided by the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda, on July 16th the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed a massive statewide auction of federal public lands for oil and gas leasing and development. The December 2018 lease sale will be the largest in Utah in more than a decade, and its targets include many wild and culturally-rich redrock landscapes.

    Tell the BLM to stop sacrificing our wilderness-quality public lands for fossil fuel development!

    In this proposal, the BLM intends to offer for lease:

    •    225 parcels totaling 329,826 acres of federal public lands including wilderness-caliber lands in Bitter Creek, Desolation Canyon, Dragon Canyon, Hatch Canyon / Hatch Wash, Labyrinth Canyon, Monument Canyon, Sweetwater Canyon, Tin Cup Mesa, Wolf Point, and the White River area (all proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act — click here to see map).

    •    Parcels located in greater sage-grouse habitat, adjacent to rivers and streams (including the Green and White rivers), and in or near culturally-rich landscapes including Nine Mile Canyon and the Alkali Ridge Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

    •    159 parcels in the Uinta Basin, the majority of which are located in or near the region found by the Environmental Protection Agency to be in violation of national air quality standards for ozone—a problem largely attributable to the BLM’s authorization of oil and gas exploration and development in that region.

    Click here to demand that the BLM remove these sensitive landscapes from its December lease sale.

    White River. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    It gets worse! The BLM also intends to use the environmental analysis prepared for this lease sale to justify its recent issuance of an oil and gas lease located on lands unlawfully removed by President Trump from monument protection in Bears Ears National Monument. The agency issued this lease in early 2018 but suspended that decision following a successful legal challenge brought by SUWA. However, the BLM is now trying to paper over its prior unlawful leasing decision as part of its larger auction of these remarkable lands.

    Finally, and adding insult to injury, the BLM has taken significant steps to limit opportunities for public comment on this massive lease sale. In fact, the public will have no opportunity at all to comment on the agency’s environmental analysis.  Instead, in an attempt to rush this sale through, the BLM is only allowing “scoping” comments during a 15-day period which runs through July 31st.  When the agency’s final decision is released, the window for public protest will be a mere 10 days (reduced from the usual 30).

    Please take a moment to tell the BLM that this massive auction of public lands, and the elimination of the public’s voice, is completely unacceptable.

    Thank you for taking action!

  • July 19th, 2017

    Once again, your voice in defense of Utah’s wild places is urgently needed.

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing to lease 79 parcels for oil and gas development on approximately 100,000 acres of federal public lands in eastern and central Utah. Included in this list are parcels along the western edge of the San Rafael Swell, in the heart of the Desolation Canyon region, the Book Cliffs, and immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.

    Leasing in the San Rafael Swell
    For the third time in five years, the BLM is proposing to offer leases in the Molen Reef region of the western San Rafael Swell—an area with high cultural and archaeological density and outstanding recreational opportunities. The agency’s initial decision to offer these leases in 2013 drew immediate and widespread criticism, including a large public protest in front of the BLM’s state headquarters in Salt Lake City.

    Ultimately, the agency determined that it did not have enough information regarding cultural and archaeological resources to justify leasing the area for oil and gas development. In 2015, the BLM once again deferred leasing in the Molen Reef region, citing the continuing need to gather more cultural and archaeological resource information.

    Citizens protested a very similar BLM lease sale for the San Rafael Swell in 2013. It was a bad idea then and it’s a bad idea now. Copyright Terri Martin/SUWA

    To date, the agency has still not completed those cultural resource inventories. In fact, the BLM admits that it has surveyed at most only 2.9 percent of the proposed parcels and thus is in no stronger a position to justify leasing now than it was in 2013. The agency’s leasing flip-flop is a disservice to this remarkable wilderness-caliber landscape and its thousands of known—and yet to be discovered—cultural resources.

    Please tell the BLM to protect the irreplaceable cultural and archaeological resources in the Molen Reef region of the San Rafael Swell. 

    Leasing near Dinosaur National Monument and in the Desolation Canyon and Book Cliffs regions
    In a return to the Bush administration’s scorched earth approach to oil and gas leasing in the Uinta Basin, the BLM is also proposing to offer leases in areas proposed for wilderness designation in the Desolation Canyon and Book Cliffs regions as well as immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.

    This ill-advised proposal would, among other things, green-light oil and gas development right next to the monument, including along the primary access route travelled by thousands of visitors annually. One of the parcels was previously offered at the BLM’s infamous December 2008 oil and gas lease sale and later withdrawn from sale by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after a successful lawsuit by SUWA and others blocked its issuance.

    In a letter to the BLM, the National Park Service has objected to the leasing proposal, citing adverse impacts to air quality, viewsheds, dark night skies, water quality, and natural soundscapes. Oil and gas development on the parcels near the monument would be visible from the Quarry Visitor Center as well as from numerous vantage points within the monument.

    Please tell the BLM to protect Dinosaur National Monument and the Desolation Canyon and Book Cliffs regions from oil and gas leasing and development.

    Thank you.

  • June 6th, 2017

    Terrific news! The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has pulled back an outrageous proposal to lease federal public lands for oil and gas development at the doorstep of Zion National Park.

    And it was citizen action that made the difference!

    The problem emerged this past winter when the BLM identified two parcels near Zion for inclusion in a September 2017 oil and gas lease sale. The parcels of land are less than two miles from the park boundary, lay clearly within the park’s viewshed, and are traversed by the Kolob Terrace Road – a popular access route to the backcountry portion of the park. The parcels also abut the town of Virgin and are transected by a popular mountain bike trail.

    View across lease parcels pulled by the BLM thanks to citizen outcry. Copyright Luke Henry/SUWA

    Local citizens, supported by conservation groups including SUWA, jumped into action. Several hundred people packed a local information meeting in the tiny community of Virgin. In response to the encouragement of local residents, the towns of Springdale and Toquerville passed resolutions against leasing. The Washington County Commission, concerned especially about impacts to water resources, followed suit. Two dozen local businesses joined together to write the BLM. And letters poured in from around the country. In total, more than 40,000 people wrote comments objecting to the proposed lease sale.

    The public outcry even captured the attention of Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert. In a letter to the BLM, Governor Herbert asked that leasing be deferred, stating that oil and gas development in the area would threaten the recreation and tourism based economies of local communities and noting that the area was “not ideal for extraction.”

    SUWA offers a big thanks and congratulations to everyone who helped. This victory is a great reminder that even in these tough times we can prevail in protecting Utah’s wild places when citizens join together to speak out!

  • March 6th, 2017

    The Bureau of Land Management’s Saint George field office is preparing to lease for oil and gas development approximately 4,730 acres of federal public land at its upcoming lease sale. Two of the parcels are located less than two miles from Zion National Park along the Kolob Terrace Road, a popular tourist route. Oil and gas development in this area will be visible from the gateway community of Virgin as well as from inside the park, threatening pristine night skies, air quality, and tourism.

    Tell the BLM that Zion’s backdrop is no place for pumpjacks and drill rigs.

    Zion Lease Sale Parcels (Luke Henry)
    View across lease parcels 42 and 43 at the outskirts of Zion National Park. Copyright Luke Henry/SUWA

    The proposal to lease for oil and gas development on the doorstep of Utah’s most popular national park has been met, unsurprisingly, by strong opposition. Local residents packed the Virgin Community Center to express their concerns during a public meeting with BLM officials, and both the Washington County Commission and the Town of Springdale (gateway to Zion National Park) have passed resolutions in opposition to the lease sale.

    Add your voice by sending a message to the BLM today.

    The agency needs to know that it is unacceptable to auction off for private development the views, experiences, and heritage of one of Utah’s crown jewels. The more than four million annual visitors to the park come to be inspired by its beauty and grandeur, not to see views spoiled by pumpjacks, drill rigs, and wastewater pits.

    The BLM is accepting public comments through this Thursday, March 9th. Click here to submit your comments now.

    Thank you!