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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!

In addition to the continuing efforts of Earthjustice, I believe credit must be given for he incredible bravery of Tim DeChristopher, the American climate activist and co-founder of the environmental group Peaceful Uprising, who protested the Bureau of Land Management of oil and gas lease auction of 116 parcels of public land in Utah on December 19, 2008, just at the end of the Bush era. Thank you for your bravery and bringing the issue to the attention of the people who could continue the protest! The Earth needs more people with your courage of heart!

Congratulations and thanks, Doug! It's wonderful to read this.

An editorial nit: *millenium* is singular. You used that word several times when you meant the plural, *millennia* ... okay, thanks and please keep up the great work.

Thanks for catching that!

Thanks for submitting your note. That millennium bothered me very much too. I'm glad someone took the time to point it out. Sue

Seriously? Can you say A-NULLLLL? Critique that!

I am so grateful for the tireless work of Earthjustice. I suppose there will always be a contingent of society that thinks money can "fix" everything especially those who use it to manipulate outcomes in their favor. That those few with the deepest corporate pockets can continue to foul the planet is morally out of my scope of comprehension.Those of us with a higher vibrational understanding of the energy of all life, must continue to raise the conscioseness of those who do not.

Thanks for all you do.

Finally,good news. We haven't heard any for the longest time. I,for one,wasn't surprised to hear Bush had 95% blockage in his own pipeline.It was the fact that he had a heart that shocked me.I considered him the budget version of OZ.He had no courage,nor heart and certainly no brains,yet he always told us he was the Wizard when all he did was take a whizz on the country for 8 years and leave a Yellow brick road crumbling due to global warming and fracking.Need a light? Turn on the water tap.
So thank you for holding the line. There are millions of us with you backing you and trying to do our part as well. (Does sarcasm count?)

This is wonderful news at a time when people are toppling ancient formations in the very same state as these 77 places. Thanks for posting this article!

Let's give some credit to Tim DeChristopher, the young hero featured in the recent documentary film BIDDER 70, who was instrumental in bringing some attention to the imminent environmental attack on these wild lands. He served 2 years in prison, and continues to inspire so many of us with his love for humanity and his dedication to our protection.

Thank you, Earth Justice for this critical victory!!! Did this case involve proposed leases above Desolation and Grey Canyons?

-Robin Nicholoff
Hotchkiss, CO

You are awesome Earthjustice! I'm far from being a political activist, but I've come to believe almost everything that CAN be done to help save this planet will be done through changing or enacting a policy or law....which means a big salute to lawyers for the environment.
Thank you, thank you

Hearty thanks to everyone at Earthjustice for persevering and taking the fight for these immensely valuable public lands all the way to victory in the Supreme Court! The visitors to these landmarks will enjoy the fruits of your tireless efforts for many years to come.

Finally, a win for Nature!

Good news. The Bush legacy was one of such decisions. Let us hope in the long run, most of them are defeated.


Glad we got a little bit of good news among all the bad these days. We hope to stop Keystone pipeline also= as we need alternate energy instead, which does not damage the environment as much.

Good to know there are still times when integrity and logic over-ride an irresponsible pursuit of profit. A hearty congratulations to those who made an ethical decision that results in the protection of America's wilderness areas for generations to come. Let's hope the powers-that-be will continue to deny proposals for such destructive exploitation.

The previous presidential era was rife with bad decision-making based on a self-serving exploitative agenda that served an administration with little consideration for the impact on the environment of the regions in question, as well as climate change. Greed, exclusivity and lack of accountability destroyed so many Americans on an economic level as of 2008. The same thinking applies to the threat to the environment by industrial carbon-based exploration and extraction. We should all be supporting the development of renewable, non-carbon-based energy sources rather than continuing with the obvious anachronism of such short-sighted, destructive development.

“We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”
― Aldo Leopold, Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold

That is so profound, especially to those who sometimes feel as though they are beating their heads against an impenetrable wall. Thanks for publishing a statement that keeps good people from staying silent!

Great quote from an incredible individual....

Such natural wonders are irreplaceable and should be protected at all cost. The oil and gas entities involved care about nothing but their own greed--certainly not in American treasures, and they must be stopped.
Why are we still subsidizing oil companies--something that was started when oil sold for $25/barrel. Now we are paying $100 or more and they no longer need such subsidies to enhance their gigantic profits.

This is a phenomenal victory. I salute you for following up and bringing this to my attention. The sneaky deals that end up on the floor and are gleaned by those willing to cause the most damage, for most and mere profit, seem to be the way of the new American conglomerate who have inexhaustible legal funds.

Great work! Keep it up.

Dear Secretary Salazar,

Thank you for standing on the side of land preservation by not issuing these 77 oil leases!


Eileen Swanson
Former CO constituent :-)

Bush was simply lining his own pockets again at the expense of the American people and their environment. his family has been engaged in the lucrative petroleum industry for decades.


I can remember in the 40's through the 60's when coal dust was so bad it was embedded in car paint and we had to cancel baseball games that were close to auto founderies.I played in many of those games that were cancelled. Even the smell was hard to endure. Companies had many chances to improve cleaner burning of coal through its furnace burning process in filters ect but refused to comply. Now they talk about clean coal,my question is how is it cleaner. All energy is good for America providing if it is found and served to us in a safe environmental way. We expect that for future children in reducing pollutants.

Save our land!!

Keep big oil out of the environment

thank you so much for your tenacious dedication and hard work to preserve our earth!!....

It is wonderful that the supreme court gave Our nation a win against Big oil but our fight must continue. The owners of the oil companies give no thought to the damage they are causing to the planet. They refuse to understand they are polluting the air and water of our planet which gives the Humans living on our plant Life. They have but one focus Greed. They must be stopped.

Good news, for a change!

As far as protecting our National Parks, I am all for that. I am glad to see that the Supreme Court can make SOME good decisions.
But for all other areas, even many environmentalists are still stopping us from drilling for oil where we should not be stopped. I am all for the environment and protecting much of it but not to the extreme. We need to balance the two so that America can be more self sustainable for our own oil/energy.
And it doesn't surprise me that Bush is the one that put thru the agreement for drilling in the National Parks, what do you expect from an oil baron?

Pam - there is no such thing as "balance" when it comes to greed. Shale oil is being extracted at huge environmental expense -- but not for us. It is for export. We already have oil reserves; no need for the environmental degradation they are insisting upon. And there is no such thing as "extreme" when it comes to protection. We have to do all we can just to offset the onslaught of Big Oil. They will stop at nothing, no matter the cost. "...even many environmentalists are still stopping us from drilling... where [drilling] should not be stopped." This point of view should be changed Pam.

Sorry, but we should NOT continue the quest for oil at all costs. We should be looking much, much harder for alternatives to the internal combustion engine and petroleum-based energy, period. Oil-seeking is destroying our world and its inhabitiants.

Finally, so me good news.

Nice work in saving Utah. Keep Keystone out of the US/ we gain nothing from that monster.

Bravo!! Finally, movement for preservation of our land-air-water.

Please for our future, not mine, not yours, ours!!

He who fail to listening has never been there.

thank you earth justice, for all of your work. With so much wrong to fight . It seems to me that it is time to name the head of the monster. The central banks. It is time to cut the head off of the monster and save the planet

well done! what a great success that there are still people in the court system that are not corrupted and believe in preserving our natural spaces while standing up to the oil and gas industry bottomless greed!

Thank you Earthjustice for all the wonderful work to protect our public lands and national treasures from the onslaught of the fossil fuel industries whose short sighted attempts to extract minerals for short term profits over the welfare of the environment and the public trust have been thwarted. These greedy sociopaths, who care naught for the destruction of our planet and the legacy left to their own grandchildren, need to be stopped at all levels, and we must avail ourselves of the abundance of alternative renewable energy resources technology has now made available to us. Thank you again, Robert

Recently four Boy Scout leaders with a group of young scouts damaged a Utah natural wonder, knocking off a top rock from one of the wonders of creation. Believe they should be removed as scouts and fined heavily for desecrating one of our natural wonders in Utah. One would think that they would be the last to spoil a natural wonder! Many in todays' society have no real sense of morals. Leave nature the way you found it.

As a great grandma grand children 29yrs./6 mo. & 2 small 1yr& 4.It is unbelievable to me anyone who calls himself a Boy Scout leader. Destroy a natural wonder.... Was this while drinking or is this his usual brain not working.. My god get him out of Scouts how about jail. That belonged to all of us.

We really can win sometimes and thanks for all the effort and foresight to stand up for the earth and it's vast majority of citizens and their future generations.

Thank you thank you and that is a tiny bit of the gratitude we all owe you.

I am so glad that the Supreme Court upheld the decision to keep public lands in their original state and not allow development. We all need these wonderful spaces to reconnect with nature in our busy lives. We, as Canadians, look forward each year in our travels south, to stop at the USA's national parks and attractions. These would not be the same if mining and development were allowed.

I am very grateful that Earhjustice has succeeded in a dual victory, one being the saving of the natural lands of Utah and hopefully elsewhere, and a second being the reduction of the mining of more fossil fuels than we should be consuming. May we learn and accept the green gifts of nature and not those of the greenery of the thousand dollar bills that go to those who sending us down the road to the environmental collapse of our civilization.

A great day! Thanks for the wonderful work that went into this. Congratulations Earthjustice, congratulations America, congratulations Earth!

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