The 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals yesterday rejected a challenge by the energy industry against Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s decision not to issue 77 oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of Utah’s most treasured and iconic landscapes, including Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument. The leases had originally been auctioned off as part of a last minute give away to the oil and gas industry in the waning days of the Bush administration.
The 10th Circuit ruled that the energy industry missed its 90-day window to challenge Sec. Salazar’s decision under the Mineral Leasing Act.
“This is a victory for Utah’s wild lands,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice attorney for the conservation groups who intervened in the case to defend the Secretary’s decision. “As Secretary Salazar recognized, the prior administration was in a ‘headlong rush’ to issue oil and gas leases and failed to conduct the adequate environmental analyses and consult with the National Park Service.”
“The court’s decision validates the significance of public land management consultation and planning before lease permits are offered for sale,” said David Nimkin, southwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “In particular, planning and providing for the protection of our national parks should be a priority.”
On December 18, 2008, public interest law firm Earthjustice sued the Bush administration in response to the auctioning of the 77 lease parcels. This action was taken on behalf of several conservation groups, including Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Sierra Club, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Utah Rivers Council. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed with the conservation groups and prohibited the Bush administration from issuing the leases.
Following that court order, Sec. Salazar pulled the parcels off the auction block, allowing the U.S. Department of the Interior time to study whether the parcels were appropriate for leasing.
Several companies and Utah counties—including Impact Energy, Peak Production, Questar Exploration, and Uintah, Carbon and Duchesne counties in Utah—filed a lawsuit in the District of Utah in an attempt to overturn the Secretary’s decision.
On September 1, 2010, the Utah court rejected the challenge of the energy companies and counties for missing their deadline to sue over the Secretary’s decision.The companies and counties appealed the District of Utah’s decision to the Tenth Circuit in January 2012.
“Utah’s spectacular public lands are the real winner in this ruling,” remarked David Garbett, a staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “However, there is still work to do. The plans and documents that led to the disastrous offering of these lease parcels are still in place; this mistake could be repeated.”