Court stands by decision on Utah oil, gas leases

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to scrap 77 Utah oil and gas leases, including ones near several national parks, was upheld under a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals action today.

The court, based in Denver, rejected an industry request that it reconsider its September finding that the industry had failed to challenge Salazar’s decision within a 90-day window as required under the Mineral Leasing Act. Last year’s ruling was by a three-judge panel, and the industry had sought to have the matter reviewed by the full court.

At issue were leases auctioned off toward the end of the Bush administration, including ones near Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dinosaur National Monument. Salazar decided the leases shouldn’t be issued because the Bureau of Land Management didn’t do adequate environmental analysis or properly consult with the National Park Service.

“This is a victory for Utah’s wild lands,” Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney for the conservation groups who intervened in the case, said in a news release. “As Secretary Salazar recognized, the prior administration was in a ‘headlong rush’ to issue oil and gas leases without concern for the spectacular scenery, pristine air, and outstanding recreational opportunities of these lands.”

“Utah’s spectacular public lands are the real winner in this ruling,” David Garbett, a staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said in the release. “However, there is still work to do. The plans and documents that led to the disastrous offering of these lease parcels are still in place; this mistake could be repeated.”

After the Bush administration auctioned off the leases, it was prevented by a federal court from issuing them after conservation groups sued. When Salazar subsequently pulled the parcels off the auction block, several energy companies and Utah counties sued. But a federal court ruled in 2010 that they had missed their deadline for challenging Salazar’s decision.

Salazar recently announced he plans to leave his job as Interior secretary in March.



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