Press Releases


  • May 24th, 2021

    Bending over backwards to help company, agency sets ball in motion to allow drilling within ½  mile of national monument; within greater sage-grouse priority habitat and wilderness-caliber lands

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact:

    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org 

    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, 213-814-8666, lkelly@npca.org

    Salt Lake City, Utah (May 24, 2021) –  Today, the Biden administration released a proposal to authorize oil and gas drilling within ½ of a mile of Dinosaur National Monument. 

    The proposal, referred to as the Federal Pipeline Unit Wells project, involves the construction and installation of new well pads, roads, pipelines and the drilling of two wells; a plan that will industrialize the western edge of the monument. Dinosaur National Monument is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts and paleontological resources. According to the National Park Service, the monument “is one of the darkest places remaining in the United States. Because there is little light pollution here, you can see the stars of the Milky Way galaxy with startling clarity.”

    “Drilling and road blasting about a quarter of a mile from Dinosaur National Monument would damage the views, quiet and dark night skies in a remote part of the park and pollute the park’s air and water,” said Cory MacNulty, southwest associate director at the National Parks Conservation Association. “This is a zombie lease from almost two decades ago that should never have been allowed in the first place and an urgent reminder of why our national oil and gas program needs immediate reforms.”

    The proposed development, if approved by the Bureau of Land Management, will destroy “priority” habitat for greater sage-grouse—that is, habitat identified by the Bureau “as having the highest value to maintaining sustainable [greater sage-grouse] populations.” The project would also destroy agency-identified lands with wilderness characteristics; lands the Bureau itself acknowledges are undisturbed and wilderness-caliber.

    “This proposal runs counter to every stated goal and objective of the Biden administration,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “It threatens some of our wildest, most scenic public lands, including a national monument, priority habitat for greater sage-grouse, and will exacerbate the climate crisis.” 

    Making matters worse, the Bureau is bending over backwards to facilitate the project. The drilling and related development will take place on public lands that are subject to a “no surface occupancy” stipulation, which prohibits all surface disturbing activities. When the lessee, Hoodoo Mining & Production Co. LLC, acquired the lease it did so with full knowledge of this restriction. Now, and at the company’s request, the Bureau is proposing to waive that important stipulation and thereby greenlight the industrialization of the area rather than require the company to develop in a less sensitive area. 

    “Why on God’s green earth is the Bureau even entertaining this drilling project?” said Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The lessee knew the terms and conditions of its lease and yet now is seeking a special exception to drill right next to Dinosaur National Monument and in priority habitat for greater sage grouse? BLM needs to say “no thanks” and send the company back to the drawing board.” 

    Notably, the proposed action is identical to one previously approved by the Bureau’s Vernal  field office only to be remanded―under the Trump administration―by the Utah State Director for further environmental review (see here). Rather than conduct the required thorough analysis, the Vernal office has merely tried to paper over its previous illegal decision and is poised to once again authorize the industrialization of this wild area. 

    Additional Resources:

    Photos of wilderness-quality lands at risk from the drilling proposal (use with attribution permitted).

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  • May 11th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Jen Ujifusa, Legislative Director,  jen@suwa.org 

    Washington, DC (May 11, 2021) –  Yesterday, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced S. 1535, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, the seminal legislation that would protect 8.4 million acres of public lands in Utah as wilderness.

    The wild and expansive lands proposed for protection under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act comprise a prime piece of what scientists say is needed today—protecting 30% of America’s lands and waters by the year 2030 in order to prevent catastrophic collapse of our natural systems. Centrally located in the Intermountain West, these lands are also a vital link in the interconnected chain of largely undisturbed ecosystems running from the Grand Canyon to Glacier National Park, providing important migration corridors for wildlife.

    In response to the Senate reintroduction, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) legislative director Jen Ujifusa issued the following statement: 

    “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act is more important than ever as we face the Climate Crisis and the Nature Crisis, as its passage would keep fossil fuels in the ground, preserve habitat connectivity and resiliency, and allow the desert lands to continue to sequester carbon, all while protecting the visual and cultural resources contained on the land for generations to come. 

    “We are grateful for the leadership shown by Senator Durbin and Senate co-sponsors, and we look forward to beginning an earnest discussion with the Biden administration and Congressional leaders on how America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act can play a crucial role in achieving the administration’s goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030.”

    Signing onto the legislation as cosponsors were Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

    Recent peer-reviewed research shows that passage of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would make a significant contribution to mitigating climate change. Protecting these wild landscapes would keep a significant amount of fossil fuels in the ground.

    All lands proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act are owned by the American public and administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

    Additional resources:

    Statement from Sen. Dick Durbin.

    Report: The Role of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in Protecting Biodiversity and Mitigating the Climate Crisis (PDF).

     

  • May 6th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Scott Groene, Executive Director, 801-712-5034, scott@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (May 6, 2021) – Today, the White House released the “America the Beautiful” initiative to reach the U.S. goal of conserving 30 percent of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. In response, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene released the following statement:

    “SUWA applauds the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful plan for taking the first step towards addressing the twin crises of wildlife extinction and the climate emergency.

    “Much work remains to be done, and America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which will soon be reintroduced in Congress, can play a crucial role in achieving the administration’s goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. The Act would conserve five key wildlife corridors that are essential to biodiversity, not only in Utah but in ecosystems throughout western North America, and a 2020 scientific report shows that protecting the lands in the Act would permanently keep in the ground greenhouse gasses equivalent to 5.7% of the carbon budget necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as called for by the Paris Agreement.

    “We look forward to working with the Biden administration and our champions in Congress to fully and permanently protect the 9 million acres of Utah public lands that are worthy of wilderness designation.”

  • March 15th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

     

    Contact: Scott Groene, Executive Director, 801-712-5034, scott@suwa.org 

    Moab, UT (March 15, 2021) – In response to the Senate’s confirmation of Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “Utah’s public lands suffered significant damage under the mismanagement of the Trump administration. As the first Native American to head the Department of Interior and a Westerner, Secretary Haaland is uniquely positioned to understand the importance of restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments; protecting cultural resources from the impacts of off-road vehicle use; and establishing a forward-looking, science-oriented approach to the stewardship of wild public lands. We congratulate her on this historic day and are grateful she was a strong supporter of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and the 30×30 initiative during her time in Congress. We look forward to her visiting Utah and working with her on the ground to find solutions.”

     

  • March 4th, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management Failed to Decide the Application During the Trump Administration

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contacts: Michelle White, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3775

    Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, 213.814.8666

    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518

    Jennifer Dickson, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.9379

    Salt Lake City, UT (March 4, 2021)  – The State of Utah and Washington County, Utah, have quietly withdrawn an application claiming joint ownership interest in the Manganese Road, a 10-mile dirt road in the southwestern corner of Utah that crosses federal public lands and forms part of the southern boundary of the Square Top proposed wilderness.  

    At the end of 2019, the state and county collaborated with the Trump administration’s BLM to attempt to use a controversial and unlawful tool known as a “recordable disclaimer of interest” (RDI) to request the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) give away the United States’ interest in the Manganese road. 

    RDIs were developed by the George W. Bush administration in an attempt to give away public lands. In 2003, the Bush Interior Department issued regulations to guide the use of RDIs to cede control over rights-of-way claimed by states and counties pursuant to an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act, known as “Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477.” The 2003 RDI regulations are contrary to a longstanding congressional prohibition, in place since 1997. Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issue RDIs to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in Utah were also withdrawn.

    “The Manganese Road application was a trial balloon that, if successful, would have opened the door for the BLM to cede public control of tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails that Utah claims as highways across federal public lands,” said Michelle White, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The RDI process is simply an effort by the State of Utah to secure title to claimed rights-of way-without having to prove their claims in court.” 

    “Once again, another unsubstantiated road claim under this illegal regulation is withdrawn,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “National parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments and many other protected lands will continue to be threatened by this regulation that can turn cow paths and two-tracks into highways. Now is the time to do away with this regulation once and for all.”

    “Amen to the failure of yet another eleventh hour Trump administration sleight-of-hand. If this questionable ploy had worked, it would have relinquished federal land held in trust for all of us,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of lands for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It also would have set a dangerous precedent, opening the door to more unsavory backhanded deals to develop lands that should be protected.”

    The RDI application is the latest in a decades-long attempt by the State of Utah to secure title to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in an effort to take control of public lands and prevent wilderness protection.

    Coinciding with the RDI application withdrawal is the one-year anniversary of the end of the “bellwether trial” that will determine if fifteen R.S. 2477 claims, located in Kane County, are valid. Despite the lengthy time elapsed since the trial concluded, a decision from the trial court is not anticipated until 2022, or later, due in part to the complicated nature of the factual and legal issues.  

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