SUWA Takes On Tar Sands Leasing in Greater Canyonlands and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

On January 19 I argued before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in a case brought by SUWA and our partners challenging a series of illegal BLM decisions in the Greater Canyonlands region and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

From afar, the particular legal claims at issue in the appeal aren’t all that exciting — whether SUWA has legal “standing” to be in court and whether our claims are “ripe” for review — but the lawsuit is critically important to protect some of the most breathtaking places in Utah from a parade of horrors that would come from tar sands or conventional oil and gas development.  From onsite refining to new roads and powerlines, to strip mining or underground “fire-floods” that proposed tar sands development would bring, these leases are the camel’s nose under the tent for the intensive industrialization of these wild places.

Happy Canyon

The BLM’s decisions revived 39 oil and gas leases that terminated decades ago on tens of thousands of acres in the Monument, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Fiddler Butte, French Springs-Happy Canyon, and North Escalante wilderness study areas, and many more places the BLM and SUWA agree have wilderness character.  Today, almost all of these places are closed to new oil and gas leasing.  A victory here will give these special places real protection because companies cannot nominate and BLM cannot sell them as new leases.

Remarkably, we found ourselves arguing against the Obama administration that was defending both the district court’s decision to throw us out of court and the underlying leasing decisions made in the Bush administration.

Our legal team of SUWA and NRDC attorneys represent the 1 million plus members of SUWA, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association and Grand Canyon Trust.