A federal district court ruled yesterday that the Roadless Area Conservation Rule should be applied to prohibit road construction on hundreds of oil and gas leases issued since the rule was first enacted in 2001. The November 29 court order by Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte follows up on her September 20, 2006, ruling that the Bush administration violated federal laws in repealing the Clinton-era Roadless Rule.
The new ruling means that 327 oil and gas leases issued by the Bush administration since January 2001 are now subject to the Roadless Rule's prohibition on road construction or reconstruction. Most of the affected leases are in roadless areas of national forests and national grasslands in Colorado, Utah and North Dakota.
"This ruling is a victory for hunters, anglers, hikers, backpackers and everyone who wants to see their National Forests wild and pristine, instead of industrialized for oil and gas development," said Earthjustice lawyer Tim Preso. "Many of these leases had been heavily opposed by local citizens, but the Bush administration turned a deaf ear to their concerns."
The reinstated Roadless Rule protects almost 50 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from road building and logging.
Conservation groups, represented by a team of Earthjustice attorneys, brought the legal challenge to the Bush administration policies, joining parallel efforts by four states which brought a separate but similar challenge to the Bush administration plan.
The 2005 Bush administration roadless repeal, adopted with no environmental analysis and limited public input, replaced a Clinton era rule adopted in January 2001 after a three-year process that included 600 public hearings and 1.6 million public comments. In addition to repealing the Roadless Rule, the Bush rule invited governors to submit petitions recommending management schemes for the national forests in their states.
Judge Laporte's decision directs the parties in the case to confer and submit a joint statement by December 11 advising whether any further court proceedings or modification of her order is necessary or appropriate.
Tim Preso, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
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