Earthjustice Makes Citizens' Case for Wilderness Protection at Supreme Court
Earthjustice filed papers with the US Supreme Court today opposing Bush administration efforts to strip citizens' rights to protect wild public lands. The conservation group asked the court to let stand a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling finding that average American citizens have the right to enforce laws that protect public lands. The Bush administration petitioned the high court in July to strike the circuit court ruling, arguing that only the administration has authority to enforce (or ignore) environmental laws protecting America's public lands.
The Bush administration appealed the Utah case, which found the public has a right to force the federal government to protect Wilderness Study Areas from damage when the government ignores violations. Federal law requires WSAs to be protected from off-road vehicles, mining, logging, road building, and other development until Congress decides their fate. In addition, federal law provides citizens the ability to take the government to court to enforce the law. In the Utah case, offroad vehicle traffic was damaging a WSA managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The BLM knew of the damage but wouldn't stop it so citizen groups won a court ruling saying the land must be protected under WSA guidelines.
"The Bush administration is asking the Supreme Court to strip the right of average Americans to defend their environment in this country," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell. "Fortunately the courts have repeatedly agreed that citizens have such rights, because it's crystal clear the Bush administration is selling out those lands to their industry friends as fast as they can."
The government's appeal to the Supreme Court is only part of Bush administration efforts to open wild public lands to oil, gas, and other forms of development. In April, the Department of the Interior settled a separate lawsuit with the state of Utah that made millions of acres of wild public lands potentially available for development.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether or not to take this case by mid-November. If the court decides to hear the case, proceedings would begin in 2004.