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Supreme Court Preserves Victory Over Oil/Gas Development


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18 October 2013, 1:37 PM
Action prevents development leases in Utah's red rock country
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah. The park is known for its impressive geological wonders. (Darren J. Bradley / Shutterstock)

It is rewarding to successfully wrap-up a case. This can be especially true when our work protects special places, preserving them for future generations. It is a pleasure to be able to point at a map and say, “Those are the places that were saved.”

The U.S. Supreme Court took action last week that did just that—endorsing an earlier conservation victory and ending the long fight over proposed oil and gas development on the doorstep of beloved public lands in the west.

Utah’s treasured and iconic landscapes—including Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dinosaur National Monument—are wonders that were formed by natural forces acting over millennia. Tides moved back and forth across great water bodies over ages. Mountains were lifted up and ground down; sediments were deposited and scoured away. Those many steps were necessary to shape and refine what we value today.

Similarly, our work to protect special places is often a lengthy process comprised of many steps (although not stretching for millennia!). We might begin with an administrative process, followed with litigation, followed in turn by an appeal.

We are always fighting the good fight but the outcome may be not clear until the case has run its entire course. Along the way, there might be numerous ups and downs, challenges and opportunities that could not be foreseen. When we do reach the end, however, it is time to celebrate the victory and remember why we worked so hard.

Red Rock Country covers a large swatch of the arid Interior West. (iStockphoto)

Red Rock Country covers a large swatch of the arid Interior West. (iStockphoto)

We are fortunate to find ourselves at such a point of celebration: the U.S. Supreme Court denial of a “petition for certiorari” in the Impact Energy v Salazar (Jewell) litigation closes the door on the efforts of a group of oil and gas companies and three Utah counties to force through 77 federal leases in the heart of Utah’s redrock country. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dinosaur National Monument and other public lands will remain protected for now.

The 77 leases, originally offered for sale during the twilight days of the Bush administration, were emblematic of the industry-first approach to public lands management that held sway through much of the last decade. As part of our ongoing work to protect special places against the onslaught of oil and gas development, Earthjustice and our conservation partners challenged the leases.

Following a court order in 2009, Secretary Salazar scrapped the 77 leases after determining that the Bureau of Land Management had skimped on its environmental analysis and failed to adequately consult with the National Park Service. Industry and the Utah counties pursued litigation to force Secretary Salazar to issue the leases regardless of these shortcomings. We stood with the Secretary in defending the withdrawal.

Although conservationists and the United States defeated the attempts to obtain the leases in both the district court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, plaintiffs pursued their quixotic quest all the way to the Supreme Court. The court’s denial removes the specter of air, water and noise pollution that the proposed development would have posed to cherished National Park Service lands.

Robin Cooley, the attorney who defended Secretary Salazar’s decision not to issue the leases summed up the victory this way:

The Supreme Court’s decision is great news for Utah’s wild lands. The 77 leases were an ill-conceived, Bush-era give away to the oil and gas industry, and it’s high time the dispute over these leases was put to rest.

This is a time to celebrate our victory and recharge but not to declare “mission accomplished.” Just as the natural processes that formed these landscapes continue to reshape and refine our natural wonders, our work to protect these places is not done. Many of the land management plans that determine the fate of our public lands remain flawed; indeed, Earthjustice continues to litigate over the Utah plans that allowed BLM to auction the 77 leases. The November 2013 Utah federal oil and gas lease sale includes more than 80,000 acres in the San Rafael Swell—another of Utah’s great treasures.

For now, though, the end of this case has been a rare piece of good news over the last few weeks for those of us who care about our public lands. Your support of our work is what makes this report of good news possible. As I write this, Congress has ended the federal government shutdown and allowed for a return to normal for our national parks and monuments. Please get out and celebrate this victory by enjoying the redrock country or any of our public lands that are accessible to you!

Thank you Doug and Earth Justice for showing us evidence that our government can work to defend our betterment against the short term gain/concerns relative to corporate profits. I wonder if this could be seen as a legal precedent for protecting lands from fracking.

Thank-you Earth Justice and supporters! These victories need to be savored as we have so many challenges as we continue forward. Thank-you!!!

So glad to hear that, the future of our parks depends on people with vision to see past today's profits and protect what is really important.
Thanks to all who supported this effort.
Without a planet we have nothing.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Your perseverance and clever litigation have truly worked wonders!

Are you working on Cook's Inlet off the coast of Alaska, where the Navy--our Navy!--is bombarding beluga whales, dolphins, seals, otters, sea birds with horrendously loud underwater sonar blasts every few minutes every day, all day, now for months and indefinitely!

What is wrong with people? How can they do this in such a richly wildlife-populated cove, which by the way has been the mating and breeding grounds for 362 beautiful, brilliant, sensitive mammals for countless generations. They were the largest number of belugas anywhere in the world--only 362--and now the live ones, who haven't washed up on shore dead and bloody are certainly damaged internally. They probably will never be able to breed again, and the babies are dead or damaged terribly. And it continues!!! Please, try to stop them. The Navy wants to do this all over the world. How sadistic can people be?

It's always a big surprise when the Supremes issue a favorable decision for the environment. Here's hoping that Obama can appoint a replacement for Scalia or Thomas before he's termed out.

In my opinion, no one should be guaranteed a job for life. Has anyone considered limiting Supreme Court tenure? A lot of good, and ill, can be accomplished in 20 years. How about making that the limit for sitting on the Court?

if not Obama then Hillary will

Earth justice..THANK YOU for ALL that you do, announced & unannounced. Every person that makes up this entitie deserves our complete gratitude for working so tirelessly. & I'm sure if the ANIMALS or even plants could talk they'd thank you to!!!! With love from Miami:)

What about the fact that the Supreme Court has just granted cert regarding the EPA's
rules on emissions from factories and power plants, even after a unanimous lower-court
decision? Doesn't that affect your perfect month even a little? Do you think no one
reads the newspapers or Internet?

That case has not been ruled on yet in this SCOTUS session. Don't quote me on this, but I don't think the oral arguments have even begun on it yet.

Thanks for all your hard work! This is wonderful news. I wish there was a way for you to get fracking and such banned on privately owned land too. These landowners who allow this on their land to receive money are depleting water supplies as well as contaminating them. This harms others and shouldn't be allowed. It also is destroying the earth for future generations.

Good work Earth Justice for the conservation and protection of our "public lands" and "special places." I hope the same energy and desire to conserve and protect those special places can be expanded to Indian Reservations across the country. Those special places are the only pieces of land left for native Americans. Their special places on Earth are being cut, scared and disfigured by mining, drilling and industrial wastes too.

Woo Hoo Yippie for for EJ and the Planet!!! Awesome NewS!!!! So Proud to be a member Lets Keep up the fight for our Beautifull planet!!!!!

Good work Earth Justice for the conservation and protection of our "public lands" and "special places." I hope the same energy and desire to conserve and protect those special places can be expanded to Indian Reservations across the country. Those special places are the only pieces of land left for native Americans. Their special places on Earth are being cut, scared and disfigured by mining, drilling and industrial wastes too.

Such wonderful news. This makes me so happy and renews my faith that with persistence and unwavering determination, we all make an impact. Thank you so much to those folks who kept fighting this and put their time and attention in to stopping big oil and big industry.

Thank you Earthjustice, for standing against a so-call powerful family in the oil & gas businesses. I'm confident that your team of lawyers will make us proud to stop Keystone XL.

I like how you put in your message, that the lands are protected "for now." The fight must be a never-ending one. Thanks so much for your part in it.

You're right, this fight never ends, no matter where the battlefield is.

For whatever it is worth, I have heard that there are two enemies of Mother Cow/Earth/Nature...godless government and godless scientists. When we finally realize that Mother Cow is non-different than Mother Earth is non-different than Mother Nature, then we will be seeing things as they are.

I firmly object to your statement that godless scientists are enemies of Mother Earth. How stupid.
I have spent my life with scientists and I can only think of two that might fit your description. As for your
term "godless"; many, if not most, are not godless, but may fall into categories of mystical, awed by
creation, or agnostic, kind, ethical, etc. However, they are dedicated to saving us and our world from ourselves. Some people who parade as believers of God are destroyers of his creation. They are
hypocrites and deserve to be shamed.

PS the content is mine and not private.

I firmly object to your statement that godless scientists are enemies of Mother Earth. How stupid.
I have spent my life with scientists and I can only think of two that might fit your description. As for your
term "godless"; many, if not most, are not godless, but may fall into categories of mystical, awed by
creation, or agnostic, kind, ethical, etc. However, they are dedicated to saving us and our world from ourselves. Some people who parade as believers of God are destroyers of his creation. They are
hypocrites and deserve to be shamed.

Thank you, Earthjustice! I'm so proud of organizations like yours who will fight to the end against these criminals.

I do have one question. Just curious, really. What are the names of the Supreme Court Justices who voted against this? Would two of them be Scalia and Thomas? I know I'm just assuming but, considering the fact that both of them showed up at a private party thrown by the Koch Brothers in Alubuquerque two or three months ago, along with Senators Ryan and Lee, I'm just aching to find out how deeply involved with the Tea Party is involved and if Scalia and Thomas are among the many paid puppets of the Koch Brothers.

If we don't work hard to remove these characters from our system, we will lose more battles than we win once they regain their bearings and go at us again.

Please pay special attention to your comment from Anonymous (from Michigan) in this post, and my response. Te people in Michigan are in dire need of your help, guidance, and especially your ability to fight these atrocities to the bitter end.

I can't offer anything but my vote of confidence because I'm retired and living (i.e., barely scraping by) on Social Security. But I do make vital use of social media and digging around looking for bits that might help us win back our nation.

Best of luck in the future and thank you again for all your hard work, and especially for this item we're celebrating today!

I'm in the same boat as you. Cannot donate money, but I can donate time & my finger(text) voice . We can get out there & tell it like it is. Thank you for your voice

Thank you everyone at Earthjustice for your convictions, brilliance, and ability to fight against big oil and gas! I thank you for your long-term commitment to save the beauty of this Earth for future generations from those with a greedy short-sighted view that see the Earth not as a living planet but as a resource to be exploited. Awesome victory!

Thank you. I'm so grateful for Earthjustice and others for being 'Keepers of the Land". Please keep up the good work!

Does anyone know much about chemtrails? I heard something about it, and the danger it is producing on vegetation burning the leaves of natural plants but doesn't bother the GMO plants plus poisoning our water's with what they have been spraying high in the atmos. Small bits of aluminum, sulphur oxide. Kinda like when they tried to seed clouds in the 60's. Now they want to spray metalic particles to reflect the suns rays back into space well it all has to fall to the earth sooner or later and it's falling on the stuff we eat and drink, Seems like big corp's are out to get us, they seem to not care how many people are injured. Proof that they have know about global warming all along.

Look up Dane Wiggington if you want to know more about the damage the chemtrails are doing to our health and evvironment.

Reading this has made my day! I know these things take a lot of work, time and money to fight! My mother spent 20 years at the California Attorney General's Office fighting north shore oil drilling. She retired a few years ago, and the fight is still ongoing. I could only imagine how gratifying it must be to have won the battle--this time. Congratulations.

Such news makes my heart glad! Keep up the good work on behalf of this amazing and beautiful planet. Thank you!

Such news makes my heart glad! Keep up the good work on behalf of this amazing and beautiful planet. Thank you!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Earthjustice. So many of us are sickened by the constant lies and greed of big oil and gas companies and depend on organizations such as yours to keep our planet as heathy as possible (and us too). Keep up the excellent work and know that millions of us love you and appreciate you.

I am proud of my monthly donation to Earth Justice!

BRAVO A GOVERNMENT AGENCY MADE A SAGE DECISION! THIS IS THE KIND OF GOVERNANCE THAT MAKES ME PROUD OF MY COUNTRY! KUDOS TO THE SUPREME COURT AND ALL THE JUDGES THAT MADE THIS POSSIBLE.

THANK YOU...A LOYAL AND FIERCELY GREEN CITIZEN...

Congratulations to To EarthJustice whose great attorneys have successfully defended the principle that the precious park lands of the U. S. A. entitled to protection for the benefit of our citizens. This is a victory not only for Utah, but for all of us. I am pleased to be a supporter of EarthJustice.

Let's see how we can get this sort of thinking into the XL Keystone and Fracking plans.
See Gasland, and the Keystone BLOCKADE films. Somehow, BLM is still deeply overcommitted to fracking and the XL and many other pipelines that got "approved." We MUST take MORE direct action, and work as well through courts. These are basic human rights, to clean air and water. We must get rid of the Energy Act of 2005 (Bush!) which suspends the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts of 1972, benefitting frackers and XL. NOT acceptable AT ALL. HOW can such an "act" of greed and destruction still exist in our times?!

Thank you for all you have done to make this world safer for our children and grandchildren. Good for you.

I don't know if this comment will appear or not; it is not actually a reply to "Anonymous" but is meant to be a general comment appended to the article itself. The primary options for submitting comments, Facebook and Twitter, are not options that I choose to participate in. If one doesn't participate in those (in my opinion, awful) sites, then increasingly one is excluded from online discussions. I will try to post as a "reply", albeit not exactly a straightforward way to comment.

I am grateful for this news about Supreme Court decisions that will protect these public lands and grateful for Earthjustice's work. I do hope that Earthjustice will dedicate as much energy to protecting the waters and land of Michigan now under severe attack by the combination of fracking companies and an ultra-right wing state government in cahoots with corporate interests, whether they are home-grown or international. Michigan waters and lands are in the crosshairs of destructive forces that will destroy them while exporting the natural gas to Asia! Destroy Michigan's waters to ship natural gas to Asia all under the lie of "energy independence for America"! I also hope that Earthjustice will work as hard to protect what is left of the Appalachians against mountaintop removal mining before that entire ecosystem is wiped out forever. Earthjustice and Sierra Club has always had its heart, it seems to me, in the West, but please turn your attentions eastward because it is also under severe, relentless and immediate attack by forces of destruction. Congratulations on behalf of all who love this land and thank you; now, keep up the good work! We're with you!

Dear Anonymous:
I am a native from Michigan living in California. I first learned about Governor Rick Snyder's dirty dealings with the Koch Brothers and the three oil and gas industries who have caused spills in Northern Michigan and in Wisconsin and are being sued by Michigan's first brewery. I also learned by responses to my comments from people in Michigan how public land is being stolen and sold to China by the Koch Brothers with the help of Governor Snyder. But when I learned that Snyder had stated that the people of Michigan will still be able to vote but he would be the one who decides the winner, that blew me away.

I immediately wrote to my Democratic Congresswoman about this, asking her to share with all Democrats and to speak out against this. I attached for her reading pleasure (attaching here also) an article about the Koch Brothers which includes the atrocities they and Rick Snyder are committing in Michigan and elsewhere, even detailing their plan to make every state like Michigan and use Michigan as an example for the others.

I haven't been home in many, many years, but I have always loved and missed my home state, especially the people. I've modeled my own personality from memories of the strong, outspoken personalities I knew during my childhood.

I just wanted you to know that I am fighting for your home (and mine) and I have spread the word elsewhere as well. But I haven't the money to go beyond the grocery store, so I use your hated Facebook to spread to anyone who will listen and even those who refuse. I just want to suggest to you that you fight these people with all your might before they close the gap that keeps Michigan from becoming the first fully-fascist state in the nation. Rally your friends and family and ask them all to rally their friends and family, and eventually gain strength and become public in protest against these modern thieves. It's not really a new story, just different players who have learned what held them back in the past and are going forward with new plans to conquer.

I have faith in the people of Michigan to stop these vile people in their tracks. And now that Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin have made such perfect spectacles of themselves with their childish pranks in Washington, D.C. during the shutdown, it's time to pounce. They've gone too far and the Tea Party got overanxious to pound the final nail into our Constitution's coffin. Little did they know how strong the people of this nation are. We will never allow fascism to rule in this country. But more of us need to speak out, and loudly and clearly, because we haven't succeeded in stopping them yet. They're just regearing, so to speak, to make more attacks on our freedoms and steel everything we own. The Tea Party must be abolished, and the worse of their members exposed, arrested and tried for sedition and treason to these United States.

I implore you to defend Michigan with all your might. Who knows, I may be able to afford a trip home before I die and see my brother once more. I write to my Congresswoman almost weekly and she has become one of the most outspoken in the administration against what the the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party is doing to us. Well, enough said for now. Here is the article I promised. Please share.

http://www.alternet.org/story/150520/you_thought_the_koch_brothers_were_bad_turns_out_they're_even_worse_than_you_thought

Good luck!

Well said. A Tea Party member I met several a year ago said that the Party just wants people to know both sides of the political issues. That was in response to my question of what is the Tea Party. I told her following her very long dissertation that it sounded very much like a more radical group of Republicans. We need to protect this country from the danger this group represents and we need to take back the Senate for the Democrats. I am frightened for the future of America considering what a hand full of people achieved in closing down our government.

Thank you too for what you are doing to help our state. So far, we seem to be in big trouble. Kalkaska County is setting a record for the amount of water that is being used and there seems to be very little oversight and little transparency. We have lost out democracy and our fate seems to be in the hands of the Koch Brothers and the Snyder regime. We need to keep fighting.

A big thank you from a grandmother of 7. Seven years old and down to 7 months. I hope our beautiful horses can win such a fight. Shame, shame and more shame on everyone who only see GREEDY $ signs and miss the gigantic gift given to all to enjoy and keep for our next generation.

Thank you, Secretary Salazar. Thank you, Earthjustice.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Thank God for some common sense at last-nothing is sacred to some members of our society-including whole political parties and Presidents

Thank God for some common sense at last-nothing is sacred to some members of our society-including whole political parties and Presidents

Environmentalist,take action

So glad to learn of this victory for life and for sanity!

Thanks in no small part to Tim DeChristopher.

Thanks in no small part to Tim DeChristopher.

Thanks in no small part to Tim DeChristopher.

Not to disparage EarthJustice, a great group, but absolutely Tim deChristopher's action brought attention at the very beginning. EarthJustice did a lot to move the case forward, though, I believe.

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