Enviros ask Obama to protect ‘wild places’

Forty conservation groups have called on the incoming Obama administration to suspend or vacate oil and gas leases for the Roan Plateau and withdraw commercial oil shale rules for the West.

The groups made their request Dec. 18 to Obama’s energy and environment transition team in a letter urging the administration “to restore balance to the management of our public lands and resources and to ensure that oil and gas development does not compromise the West’s water, air, wildlife and rural communities.”

The letter is signed by local groups such as the Western Colorado Congress and Wilderness Workshop, and larger ones including the National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited.

The groups call on the new administration to take immediate steps to protect land and resources, such as reversing executive orders and Bureau of Land Management policies under the Bush administration “that collectively limit the authority of BLM employees to impose needed restrictions on leasing and development and to protect lands where development is incompatible with other values.”

The groups also call for protection of “wild places,” including the Vermillion Basin in northwest Colorado and the Roan Plateau near Rifle. The BLM leased 55,000 acres on the Roan for oil and gas development in August. The groups say the Obama administration should suspend or vacate oil and gas leases at several locations, so the BLM can consider more protective alternatives.

The BLM says the Roan plan includes numerous restrictions designed to protect the environment during drilling.

The conservation groups’ letter urges that commercial rules for oil shale leasing on public lands be withdrawn and that the administration “undertake a critical review of the oil shale program.”

Critics say the rules were issued prematurely, before technologies that might be used to develop oil shale are known and their possible impacts can be assessed. The energy industry says the rules are needed to provide certainty as they plan for moving forward with oil shale research.


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