Bush Administration to Open Public Lands Near Utah's National Parks for Natural Gas and Oil Drilling

arches national park photo

Image from jderuna

There is no doubt that the Bushies will go down in history as the administration with the least environmentally-friendly record (among other dubious distinctions). Having already gutted the Endangered Species Act, denied the existence of climate change and vehemently resisted efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, it is not as if the president has been trying especially hard to rehabilitate his dismal reputation. Last Friday, we learned of the Bush administration's latest environmental hit job, courtesy of The New York Times' Felicity Barringer: a plan by the Bureau of Land Management to open tens of thousands of acres on or near the borders of three national parks in eastern Utah, including Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, to drilling.

canyonlands national park photo

Image from Wolfgang Staudt
Decision taken without consulting National Park Service
In light of the administration's ongoing (and recently accelerated) efforts to ease regulations on its industry allies, this does not exactly come as a shock (see Greg Haegele's list of top 10 "eco-horrors" for more recent coverage). What was perhaps a little surprising was that the BLM did not even bother to notify officials in the National Park Service (some of whom presumably adhere to the administration's anti-environment philosophy); instead, the agency quietly released an updated lease proposal (the first one was also heavily criticized for giving the green light to further industrial activity) that included 40 - 45 new areas. It evidently hoped to attract as little attention as possible, releasing it on November 4.

Late auction date will hurt next administration's efforts to reverse sales
The new tracts will be sold at auction on December 19. (Incidentally, this is the last lease sale before the president leaves office.) As a result, instead of having the customary 1 - 3 months to comment on the new proposal, top managers at the NPS will have precious little time to voice their concerns about the drilling's impact on the parks' water, air and wildlife. When asked if she would reconsider offering the tracts in December, Selma Sierra, BLM's state director, pointedly refused, Barringer notes.

Those who believe an Obama administration would be able to easily reverse the sales are mistaken: Any effort by the new government to do so would likely result in the energy companies filing suit or taking other retaliatory action -- moves that would likely drag out the process for several months or years.

Earlier this year I wrote about the NPS selling our parks short by inhibiting its own ability to purchase the estimated 1.8 million acres of land listed for acquisition (it only requested $100 million from Congress for fiscal year 2009 to buy $1.9 billion worth of land). The fact that this administration has even managed to take its own officials by surprise speaks volumes.

More about the Bush administration's shenanigans
In this Week's Bargain Bin: Our National Parks
10 Eco-Horrors That Should Have You Scared
A Return To Colorado Oil Shale?

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