Conservationists sue to stop sale of drilling leases in Utah
WASHINGTON - Conservation groups filed a lawsuit yesterday to block the Bush administration's last-minute sale of oil-and-gas drilling leases in Utah amid spectacular scenery near national parks.
The Bureau of Land Management has scheduled an auction tomorrow to sell drilling leases covering more than 100,000 acres of wild land in eastern Utah.
Actor Robert Redford, a longtime environmental activist, called the lease sale "morally criminal." Redford, who owns a home in Utah and hosts the annual Sundance Film Festival there, said the leasing issue is emotional for him, since he has spent much of his adult life in southern Utah, on foot and on horseback.
"These lands do not belong to Bush and Cheney. It's our land - public lands - and the BLM is supposed to be protecting lands on our behalf," Redford said via satellite from Los Angeles during a news conference in Washington.
President Bush "may be a lame duck," Redford added, "but he can still quack. I say: Stop it. Enough is enough."
Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Bush administration was rushing to approve the leases before leaving office next month.
"In their midnight maneuvering, BLM failed to complete the analysis required by federal law for the protection of America's natural and cultural treasures," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management declined to comment.
Buccino and other speakers said the land being considered for drilling includes some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, including land near Nine Mile Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument, and Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
The bureau has dropped more than half the parcels it originally proposed to lease after the sales were criticized because of their proximity to national parks. The National Park Service was among those that objected to the original plan. The bureau's final list for the sale includes 132 parcels totaling about 164,000 acres.