Conservation groups today applauded a new report from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that points to flaws in a December 2009 Utah oil and gas lease sale. The report indicates that among the BLM's shortcomings was a failure to inform the National Park Service of a last-ditch effort that added more tracts of land to the lease sale.
"We are extremely heartened that the Department of the Interior is acknowledging that there were important errors that need to be fixed in this lease sale," said Nada Culver, Legal Counsel at The Wilderness Society.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina issued a restraining order against finishing the Utah lease sale in January 2009. Following the order, Secretary Salazar pulled the parcels off the auction block for further consideration, allowing the Department time to study the auction of 77 leases for over 100,000 acres and determine how the leases, including those encroaching on national parks, actually made it to the auction in the first place.
"We are encouraged by the Department's efforts to issue guidance on how best to protect our most sensitive natural and cultural treasures from oil and gas development, especially those that qualify as wilderness," said Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Conservation Director. "We are looking forward to working closely with the agencies as they improve the lease sale process in the future."
The report recommends requiring the BLM to work more closely with the Park Service and issuing guidance to help BLM officials that take into account nearby parks or other sensitive landscapes, including those with wilderness characteristics, when determining what parcels are appropriate for auction. It also recommends that the BLM form a special team to make final decisions on the Utah leases and that the agency consult the Park Service, EPA, and state officials to create a comprehensive air quality strategy for the region.
"The lack of coordination and consultation between the BLM and Park Service, along with the disregard for the values of Utah's treasured National Parks and public land, were all hallmarks of the dysfunctional Bush administration. We are encouraged by the new direction being set by Secretary Salazar. We're encouraged to see science and common sense return to the management of these irreplaceable and iconic landscapes," said Sierra Club Public Land Representative Myke Bybee.
"The Bush administration broke the law when they put some of our nation's most spectacular public lands on the chopping block at the December 19 lease sale. We commend the Obama administration for their swift action to cancel the contested leases and look forward to reviewing the recommendations in the Interior Department's report on the multiple deficiencies of the flawed sale," said Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley.
"We do not need to sacrifice the West's last wild places to meet our nation's energy demands," said Sharon Buccino, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The Department of Interior is wisely taking the time to evaluate where and how to drill. America's clean energy future does not include drilling on our wild lands, and we will continue our efforts to make sure that our plans do not include drilling on land around our national parks."