BLM withdraws plans to lease land near protected areas

Two days of discussions between the Utah State Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service about a controversial plan to lease some pristine areas for oil and gas drilling has led to a deal where those lands will now be protected, it was announced Tuesday.

The BLM announced a plan to offer a number of parcels in close proximity to some of the most spectacular protected areas in the region, including Arches, Canyonlands and Dinosaur national monuments.

A lease sale is still planned for Dec. 19. However all of the parcels that representatives of the National Park Service raised objections to, most notably near the three national parks, will now be deferred from the sale, the BLM announced.

The controversial parcels were included in a revised map released by the BLM on Election Day, and expanded the areas up for oil and gas drilling leases by tens of thousands of acres, many of which were on or near the boundaries of the three national parks.

Critics, including John Podesta, co-chairman of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, cited the expanded plan as a possible target of an Obama executive order once he’s sworn into office.

The Bush administration wants “to have oil and gas drilling in some of the most sensitive, fragile lands in Utah that they’re going to try to do right as they (are) walking out the door,” Podesta said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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