Interior Department Cancels Utah Wilderness Lease Sale


Today's action starts roll-back of Bush-era environmental assaults


Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9611
Trip Van Noppen, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700

Common sense and reverence for America’s natural heritage are behind today’s action by the Department of Interior canceling a lease sale of more than 100,000 acres of Utah wilderness, Earthjustice said in a statement.

The controversial sale, one of many last-minute Bush attacks on the environment, was challenged in a lawsuit filed December 22 last year by Earthjustice on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups. A temporary restraining order January 19 put the sale on hold.

The leases cancelled by Interior Sec. Ken Salazar are in areas near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, which include lands that contain the nation’s greatest density of ancient rock art and other cultural resources.

"Secretary Salazar isn’t just sparing some remarkable Western lands from destruction — he’s bringing common sense back into wilderness management. At best these lands will produce only 1.5 hours of the oil we use in a whole year. The oil industry will profit, not America," said Robin Cooley, the Earthjustice attorney who filed the legal action.

"We need a more balanced and legal approach to our natural resources and Salazar has started fixing these problems but there are many more that will also require the new administration’s attention," Cooley said.

Earthjustice has challenged most or all of the illegal actions damaging to the environment leftover from the waning days of the Bush administration.

"The Earthjustice legal challenges also provide a way for the new administration to quickly and easily resolve the issues and restore a balanced approach that protects our natural areas, wildlife, air and water," Cooley said.

Even with the today’s lease cancellation, the coalition will move forward with legal action to address the larger issue of the Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that remain in place in Utah. Cancelling the leases is a critical first step, but the problem will come up again unless problems in the RMPs are fixed. These problems include failure to address air pollution and climate change, failure to protect cultural resources, and failure to limit damage from off road vehicle use. The six RMPs were authored during the last days of the Bush administration and have serious ramifications for 7 million acres of public lands. 

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