Salazar Blocks Utah Land Leases

Interior Secretary cancels the controversial auction of land near Arches and Canyonlands for oil and gas exploration; declines to comment on the civil disobedience case of Tim DeChristopher

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced this afternoon his intention to immediately stop the Bush-era sale of 77 parcels of Utah land near Arches, Canyonlands, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon for energy exploration. The Interior Department will now embark on an environmental review process in concert with the National Park Service before the Bureau of Land Management can authorize any future sale.

“In its last week, the Bush administration rushed to sell oil and gas leases on our treasured landscape,” Salazar said via teleconference. “(President) Obama and I believe we need to make sure we protect our national treasures. We need to recognize that the environmental review process was, from our point of view, not complete. I have directed the Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bid. We will take a fresh look at these parcels.”

Over $6 million paid out for over 110,000 acres of land near those national parks and monuments will be returned to the bidders. While Salazar admits that some of those parcels could eventually be sold again, it signals a stark change in policy from the previous Interior Department.

“This is an important step towards restoring balance between our natural resources and our treasured places,” Salazar said. “The difference between my approach and my predecessor’s approach is that we believe there ought to be a balance. We’ll develop those resources, but do it in away that make sure we’re providing appropriate mitigations so the treasured lands, wildlife, and water sources are protected.”

Salazar signaled that this was only the first of several environmental reviews of Bush-era BLM decisions.

“A number of decisions made by the Bush administration, in my view, (…) were made in a rush without the proper environmental review,” he said/. “This is only one of a dozen or so matters. We will be having additional announcements as we complete our review.”

Regarding the case of Tim DeChristopher, a Utah college student who gained attention with an act of civil disobedience when he outbid several energy companies for parcels of environmentally sensitive land, Salazar refused to comment.

“The United States attorney has the matter, and is reviewing it,” he said. “I’m not going to provide any other comments.”

—Ted Alvarez