Trial begins in Utah oil-gas lease auction case

SALT LAKE CITY — About 400 environmental activists marched to the federal courthouse today to support a man facing trial this week on charges that he thwarted a 2008 oil-and-gas lease auction to bring attention to climate change.

Tim DeChristopher, 29, has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to felony counts of interfering with and making false representations at a government auction, although he doesn’t dispute the facts of the case. Jury selection begins today and the twice-delayed trial is expected to last about four days.

DeChristopher, who plans to testify, has called his bidding an act of civil disobedience and has said he expects to be convicted. He faces up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if he’s right.

On Dec. 19, 2008, DeChristopher grabbed bidder’s paddle No. 70 at the final lease auction of the Bush administration and ran up prices while snapping up 13 leases on parcels totaling 22,500 acres around Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

The former wilderness guide — a University of Utah economics student at the time — ended up with $1.7 million in leases he couldn’t pay for and cost angry oil men hundreds of thousands of dollars in higher bids for other parcels.

“We were hosed,” said Jason Blake of Park City, shortly after the consulting geologist was outbid on a 320-acre parcel. “It’s very frustrating.”

DeChristopher later offered to cover the bill with an Internet fundraising campaign, but the government refused to accept any of the money after the fact.

DeChristopher has said the administration of former President George W. Bush violated environmental laws in holding the auction. A federal judge later blocked many of the leases from being issued.



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