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A New Chance for BLM Wild Lands

One of the more frustrating tactics used repeatedly by the Bush administration in environmental matters was something we called “sue and settle.” These were cases filed against the government by states, industrial interests, or others seeking, for example, to open up wild lands to development.

The defendant—the government—would then capitulate to the demands of the plaintiffs and do it in such a way that the public, frequently represented by environmental groups that were in turn represented by Earthjustice and similar organizations, was boxed out of the process. These were closed-door settlements without permitting intervenors to participate.

One particularly obnoxious case of sue and settle took place in Utah, where the state and the Interior Department connived to usurp the authority of the Bureau of Land Management to designate lands under its control “wilderness study areas,”—areas that might one day be designated wilderness by Congress and that would therefore be managed conservatively in the meantime.

This was hassled out for five years and longer, and some prized areas were opened to oil and gas drilling.

But now, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has reversed that position and told BLM it certainly can designate “wild lands” and maintain their wilderness qualities until Congress decides up or down. Good show.

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