End of the Line for Utah Counties/Energy Company Lawsuit!

Upper Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

Yesterday marked the end of a nearly five year legal challenge to former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s withdrawal of 77 oil and gas leases from Utah Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) infamous December 2008 lease sale. The end came when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari by Uintah, Carbon, and Duchesne counties, and three energy companies.

You remember this lease sale; it was the Bush administration’s “we’re going out of business and everything must go oil and gas lease sale” and included leases in such well known landscapes as Monitor and Merrimac Buttes outside of Moab, thousands of acres on Hatch Point just outside Canyonlands National Park, and even a parcel immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument. It wasn’t pretty.

Supporters of redrock wilderness fought this lease sale every step of the way. SUWA and our conservation partners successfully sued in December 2008 to block the leases from being issued. A few weeks later in early February 2009 Secretary Salazar withdrew them acknowledging that BLM’s lease sale was flawed. Uintah County and the others later sued to overturn Salazar’s decision. Working with our friends at Earthjustice, we successfully intervened on behalf of the Interior Department to defend that decision.

SUWA and the United States prevailed at the district court, which rejected the lawsuit as having been filed too late, and the Tenth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision. The plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case – and yesterday morning the court denied that petition.

Unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet. Utah BLM’s proposed November 2013 oil and gas lease sale, which targets more than 50 parcels/covering approximately 80,000 acres in Utah’s stunning San Rafael Swell, has drawn comparisons to the December 2008 lease sale. Both the December 2008 sale and the proposed November 2013 lease sale are authorized by BLM’s Bush-era land management plans that have been heavily criticized as being unbalanced in favor of energy development and off-road vehicle use over all other uses of Utah public lands. Those land use plans are currently the subject of federal court litigation brought by SUWA and others in Salt Lake City.

With your help we will continue to protect the Utah’s amazing redrock wilderness.