The Trump administration today offered up more than 150,000 acres of public land in Utah for fossil fuel development, including in the heart of some of the state’s most iconic landscapes. In response, dozens of Utahns gathered at a press conference in the State Capitol Rotunda to raise their voices in protest.
The Bureau of Land Management’s online auction offered 105 parcels of public land for oil and gas leasing and development, some within 10 miles of internationally beloved protected areas including Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Bears Ears and Hovenweep national monuments, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The sale also threatens public lands with wilderness characteristics.
SUWA staff attorney Landon Newell explained that “Since December 2017 through its upcoming March 2019 lease sale, the BLM will have offered for oil & gas leasing and development approximately 500 lease parcels, consisting of more than 735,000 acres of public lands in Utah. This is an increase of more than seven-fold from what was offered over a similar time frame by the BLM under the Obama administration.”
Fossil fuel development in these areas threatens multiple sensitive plants and animals, including the Greater sage-grouse, Black-footed ferret, Mexican spotted owl, White River penstemon and Graham’s beardtongue. It also stands to exacerbate already critical air quality problems in the Uinta Basin and would use tremendous amounts of water even as Utah closes out its driest year in recorded history.
Adding insult to injury, the BLM is rushing to sell off ever larger tracts of our shared heritage in furtherance of the Trump administration’s ill-conceived “energy dominance” agenda, and the agency has moved to “streamline” its lease sale process by eliminating perceived “roadblocks” to energy development. These so-called roadblocks include, according to the agency, regular environmental review and public participation. As a result, the BLM has sold-off hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands for oil and gas development without fully involving the public or analyzing the impacts of its leasing decisions.
Westminster College sophomore Eliza Van Dyk put the lease sale in perspective as she conveyed the feelings of an entire generation. “Oil and gas leasing threatens to shatter our visions for a better world. For every well drilled, they are exacerbating the struggles of people who are already intimately experiencing the pain of climate change. And yet, BLM is leasing our futures without even letting us have a say! The absence of an accessible public comment period in the December lease sale has been a despicable violation of our rights as young people to secure just and livable futures for generations to come.”
Marc Thomas of the Sierra Club’s Glen Canyon Group added, “These parcels offered for sale are almost always rubberstamped with a ‘finding of no significant impact’ regardless of what treasures they contain, whatever other values they may have, and whether they’ve ever even been inventoried.”
SUWA believes that this uninformed “lease first, think later” approach to oil and gas leasing and development adopted by the BLM is both a disservice to the American people and unlawful. We intend to challenge the agency’s leasing decisions in court.