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U.S. Supreme Court Nixes Oil Leases on Utah's Pristine Lands

PHOTO: Thousands of acres of land near Utah's National Parks are better protected from oil and gas development, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week. Photo courtesy of U.S. National Park Service.
PHOTO: Thousands of acres of land near Utah's National Parks are better protected from oil and gas development, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week. Photo courtesy of U.S. National Park Service.
October 9, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - Thousands of acres of land near Utah's national parks are better protected from oil and gas development thanks to a new U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Several Utah counties and energy developers had asked the court to restore 77 oil and gas leases that were halted in 2009 by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The leases had been approved by President George W. Bush in the final days of his second term, but Salazar had stopped them for being on or near pristine lands.

After years of back-and-forth, Steve Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said, the high court's ruling can be seen as a big win for all Americans.

"We are grateful that the Supreme Court has, for the last time, rejected this lawsuit brought by Utah counties and energy companies which was trying to undo Salazar's decision."

The oil and gas leases in question included areas near Canyonlands National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Dead Horse Point State Park.

Bloch said this case should serve as an example to federal agencies to acknowledge priorities other than drilling - such as recreation, tourism and wildlife habitat. When that doesn't happen, he said, there will be continued legal opposition.

"I would hope that it could be a lesson that there needs to be balance between preserving special places and allowing for domestic energy development," he said. "In reality, that's proving to be a very difficult line for the administration to walk."

Bloch said his group contended that the 77 oil and gas leases should not have been authorized in the first place.

"The leasing that took place during the end of the Bush administration was simply irresponsible and unnecessary," he said.

Information about the decision is online at supremecourt.gov.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT