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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!

I am reading a book, The Teapot Dome Scandle, how big oil bought the Harding White Housae and tried to steal the country by Laton McCartney. It appears that big oil has not given up on plundering each and very square inch of land in their quest for profits. When big oil and political parties join hands the environment is the loser big time.

I have wandered and hiked through these wonderful wild places of the American West,and it is my hope that they will rermain unspoiled for generations to come. It is very gratifying to me that the Supreme Court has struck down yet another attempt to extract a short-term gain for a few at the expense of a lasting natural asset for us all, including the yet unborn.
A good comparison would be Monument Valley, which is owned and managed by the Navajo nation. They know the great value of what they have, and have been good shepherds to the land, not even allowing paved roads through the valley.

Well, everyone (except for a very small minority in serious denial and motivated by insane greed) is finally waking up to the fact that we can't keep polluting and destroying the earth and survive. I live in SC and even here, I no longer stand out as some weirdo conservationist! Great work everyone!

Saved from the oil industry but not Utah's Scout leaders......

I can't thank you enough for your work on behalf of our beautiful planet! It is a one step at a time proposition, for sure. It is so encouraging to see this progress at a time when environmental studies are confirming increasingly what we have known all along about the speeding up of the degradation of our Mother Earth. You have given us a shot in the arm. Thank you.

I can't thank you enough for your work on behalf of our beautiful planet! It is a one step at a time proposition, for sure. It is so encouraging to see this progress at a time when environmental studies are confirming increasingly what we have known all along about the speeding up of the degradation of our Mother Earth. You have given us a shot in the arm. Thank you.

Please note that there is no such thing as "acting over millennium" or "stretching for millennium". A millenium is a thousand years. If you mean for multiple thousands of years, use the plural "millennia."

The news is good. Can you report Earthjustice's solid legal work with equally competent writing?

Hooray! Thanks for the great work!

Hooray! Thanks for the great work!

Thank you, thank you, a million billion thank yous.

This is a great victory and wonderful news!

Thank goodness! I'm so relieved the conservative members of theSupreme Court didn't give in to the demands of the oil and gas companies like they did to our major corporations.

BRAVO to the Justices and to Earthjustice and all who worked to bring this victory to fruition!!

You may not want to read one more legal case but this one makes me happy and you might agree!

Finally! The Supreme Court has decided against permitting big petroleum companies
to encroach our public lands, at least in one area of our beautiful country! We absolutely
MUST move on to power our country with renewable energies like SOLAR, WIND and
other naturals. Our very lives depend on CLEAN AIR AND CLEAN WATER!

Without Nature we have no perfection to strive to emulate. Without Nature science has no goal to achieve to understand and explain. Without Nature we no longer have the sense of beauty in which we participate as an integral part. Preserving Nature is as important as our purpose in living.

A huge thank you for seeing this through all the setbacks and victories. An even bigger congratulations. Every one who helped with these cases is a hero and deserves to be celebrated.

I was just imagining a movie in which Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Redwoods, Great Smoky Mountains, and any others you want to put here, were all invaded by giant mining companies of the world, blasting them all to smithereens, because of some mineral for profit. That's what it feels like every time I hear about any minor invasion, because minor invasions seem to always lead to major invasions which destroy our guarded treasures. Very good news, but keep a watchful eye.

Once again, we have the dedicated staff of Earthjustice to thank for their hard work to maintain our wonderful natural heritage that is not only the right of all Americans, but their responsibility to preserve for the future.

Thanks to all concerned for persevering throughout a long, arduous trek! Nevertheless, it is peculiar to the point of surreal that we get to declare victory only when something bad DOESN'T happen.

I am so thankful to hear this great news! My husband and I visited these most magnificent parks in 2005. It is shocking to think that these places of rare and extraordinarily unique beauty could even become a target for such exploitation! Such is the evil of Greed! Thank you, Earth Justice and Secretary Salazar (and all supporters of the Earth!) for fighting this fight and seeing it through! Please continue strong and unyielding to protect what can never be replaced once gone!!

Celebrate yes, but keep an eye on the BLM it is sad that they can't be trusted with the land and the wildlife that roam these incredible places. Republicans will keep working to undermine regulations and find more ways to support corporations rather than the people they supposedly represent and do what they can to undo whatever good Ombama tries to do.

Thank you so very much, I too have wonderful memories of the beauty of these parks, every few years my wife and I (married 46 yrs) fly out, rent a car and revel in the beauty of nature. Again, thank you! Greg Marsteller

Congratulations EarthJustice and all its supporters. Keep up the great work!

Since Utah seems pushing for leases for additional money to their coffers, what compensation do states with considerable public lands get in relation to lands in many states that can be taxed ? Too many public lands are targeted by corporations for THEIR profits with mineral, oit, etc. The leases are usually miniscule in relation to profits receivec.

I am always encouraged to hear about another "win" for environmental protection and preservation of our natural resources and heritage.

Thank you Earthjustice!

This is GREAT news but why is it being hidden by the popular press. I don't hear or see
a thing about these decisions. Of course I am living in Mexico where I can afford a decent
life which puts me out of touch with some news sources. Again, great work EarthJustice!

Thank God for all the hard working individuals who have the dedication, strength and perseverance to stay alert and fight the injustice and greed. Thank you secretary Salazar and attorney Robin Cooley, and the Supreme Court, and all of us together who care. In the words of Edgar Cayce "It is not enough to be good, but good for something!" As for me, the least I can do is stay informed thanks to Earth Justice and keep on signing petitions!

Thank goodness for some victories. Now let's get some victories for wolves, bison, & mustangs & other wildlife!

Amen lets hope.

"A rare piece of good news," is correct. Hopefully this will begin a trend. This pessimist is having a rare moment of optimism!

We only have one planet to live and is very sick because we still use fossil fuels being brainwashed by big oil corporations, they should be held accountable for the damage, including atmospheric changes like hurricanes and other changes because there irresponsible and for profit actions at our scarify.

Great news! This earth is a sacred treasure--we are but its stewards for the time we are here. All places are sacred and deserving of respect--we are less when we desecrate any place. Thank you for hard, important work well done. In times of trouble, we all need a good lawyer and it is heartening to know the Supreme Court stepped up. Next to stop is the insanity of fracking and spend those labors on clean renewable resources.

Explain please the end of the article that seems to contradict the court win. You say the govt
can still auction off the 77 leases despite the Supreme Court ruling against them. What are you not saying clearly?

I'm 'thinking' that this is an area that's not in the National Park boundaries. But you are correct that this portion of the story is nebulous.

These precious and beautiful lands must be treasured and preserved for all generations to come.

I am on a fixed income and generally cannot donate to you when you need it but I love getting your emails and love the things you are doing by helping the land and spaces about our earth.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR ALL YOU ARE DOING AND ACCOMPLISHING!

best wishes,
Nancy

Thank you! It is heartening to have some good news for a change. It is also nice to know that the Supreme Court does not side with industry every time.

......and THANK YOUUUUUU.....Earthjustice!!!!!!!

This is the most fantastic news. We have an obligation to protect these lands for future generations.

Thank you for doing the right thing. Now continue to get it right. Our government is not run by Monsanto or greedy oil and fracking companies. This land is our land said Woody Guthrie so let's keep it that way.

A ray of hope and I am so glad we have you to fight forn our public lands., good job.

on the negative side it is such a shame we have to spend all this money to try to undo what the big oils/gas corporations want to do to ravish our lands, our health, our air etc. Everything costs big money and sometimes makes one feel defeated before we start. They seem to have endless money to drive, twist, turn, lie, white lie, spin it their way so people are confused. I lost all respect for the ones involved as they act like war lords over us.

I am old with no money but I totally support all you do. thanks

Thank you for all you do and trying to preserve our National parks for future generations.

As I get older I become more aware of the value of nature and the very human need for quite, places, where one can slow down, look around at what exists besides our hurried existance dictated by someone else.
olde man in Haslet

congratulations

Thank for your saving America's treasures. We know that there will be more fights, but this will go a long way to stop the continuous efforts of the oil and gas industry to exploit our sacred treasures for profit. We will stand with you to defend our land for future generations

Thank for your saving America's treasures. We know that there will be more fights, but this will go a long way to stop the continuous efforts of the oil and gas industry to exploit our sacred treasures for profit. We will stand with you to defend our land for future generations

Having 9 oil companies use the water from our lake (the only available water - spring fed) in McClain County, Oklahoma) and not pay one red cent to the owners is deplorable.

We have sued, but after two years, many dollars in retainers, the oil companies know you can't keep it up financially...so they win, again.

Any victory in our public land is monumental. Thank you for what you do. It does make a difference - a drop at a time.

Thank you,

Susie Purcell
Retired nurse/social worker
Owner of a farm 115 years old (Original Chickasaw Land Allotment)

Having 9 oil companies use the water from our lake (the only available water - spring fed) in McClain County, Oklahoma) and not pay one red cent to the owners is deplorable.

We have sued, but after two years, many dollars in retainers, the oil companies know you can't keep it up financially...so they win, again.

Any victory in our public land is monumental. Thank you for what you do. It does make a difference - a drop at a time.

Thank you,

Susie Purcell
Retired nurse/social worker
Owner of a farm 115 years old (Original Chickasaw Land Allotment)

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