Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance et al. v. David Bernhardt et al.

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Credit: Steven Szabados

For at least 20 years, local advocates and tribes in the region around Labyrinth Canyon have sought permanent protection for the 55,000 acres of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness. The wilderness borders the Green River and includes the iconic Bowknot Bend—a deep, red rock river canyon where the river turns 180 degrees and forms a deep, colorful U in the landscape.

In late 2018, Congress got involved in the effort to protect this astonishing river canyon, assembling the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (the Dingell Act), an enormous package of conservation-focused bills. Despite clear indications that Congress intended to protect Labyrinth Canyon with the Dingell Act, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) went ahead and included a 1,410-acre parcel in its plans for a December 2018 oil and gas lease sale. In short: It set about leasing a parcel located completely within what was soon to become a designated wilderness.

The Dingell Act passed Congress on February 26, 2019. Three days later, BLM issued a lease to Twin Bridges Resources, a company seeking to drill up to seven wells to produce helium gas. On March 12, 2019, President Trump signed the Dingell Act into law, officially designating Labyrinth Canyon as wilderness. But under the law, the bureau’s move in issuing Twin Bridges’ its lease before March 12 potentially preserved its right to develop the lease, pending the bureau’s future approval of the project proposal.

In response to indications that the bureau was on the verge of approving Twin Bridges’ project, NRDC and coplaintiffs led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), sued the bureau for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). We have alleged that the bureau failed to appropriately consider the potential environmental impacts—cumulative water use and cumulative greenhouse gas emissions—caused by the planned development in the area.

On December 22, 2020, a federal court sided with our motion for an emergency injunction on any project approvals until early January. But the fight continues.

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