Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw leases that were offered on 77 parcels of U.S. public land near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon. The leases on these 77 parcels are the subject of litigation in U.S. District Court.
"In its last weeks in office, the Bush Administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation's most treasured landscapes in Utah," said Secretary Salazar. "We need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources in places like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, for future generations.
"I have directed Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bids on 77 parcels from the December 19 lease sale and which are in close proximity to these national parks, monuments, and sensitive landscapes. We will take a fresh look at these 77 parcels and at the adequacy of the environmental review and analysis that led to their being offered for oil and gas development. I am also concerned that there was inadequate consultation with other agencies, including the National Park Service."
The 77 parcels, which are the subject of a Temporary Restraining Order, were part of a Dec. 19, 2008 lease sale offering 130 parcels in three areas in northeastern Utah covered by the Bureau of Land Management's Vernal, Moab and Price land use plans. The 77 parcels, which total about 130,225 acres, are all in the vicinity of two National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument. Of the 130 parcels offered, bids were received on 116 parcels, totaling 148,598 acres.
Under the BLM lease sale process, companies bid on parcels in a public auction and the BLM then reviews and evaluates the bids to decide whether to accept them or not. A government contract is not completed until the BLM formally accepts the bids, which it has not done for these 77 parcels.
Several groups filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Dec. 22, challenging the previous administration's decision to offer 77 of the 130 parcels and arguing that the lease sale process did not fully comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act. Some groups also filed administrative protests, which are currently pending before the BLM state office.
On Jan. 17, 2009, the U.S. District Court granted a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order on the 77 parcels. The U.S. Department of Justice response to the motion for preliminary injunction is due on Feb. 6, 2009.
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