WASHINGTON (January 18, 2009) -- More than 110,000 acres of Utah wilderness will be protected from oil and gas companies as a result of a ruling last night by Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court. Judge Urbina granted a temporary restraining order that prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from moving forward with these leases. A coalition of environmental groups -- led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, and Earthjustice -- filed a lawsuit on December 17, 2008 to prevent the leasing of public lands.
"This ruling is a huge victory in protecting our nation's pristine wilderness from destruction due to oil and gas drilling," said Sharon Buccino, senior attorney for NRDC. "We do not need to sacrifice our wild lands to achieve a secure energy future."
In his ruling, Judge Urbina found that the conservation groups "have shown a likelihood of success on the merits" and that the "'development of domestic energy resources' … is far outweighed by the public interest in avoiding irreparable damage to public lands and the environment." The merits of the case will be heard later in 2009. Until that time, BLM is prohibited from cashing the checks issued for the contested acres of Utah wilderness.
"We're thrilled with this decision," said Stephen Bloch, Conservation Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "BLM's attempt to sell these leases just before the Bush administration left office has been showcased for what it really is -- a parting gift to the oil and gas industry. Judge Urbina's decision firmly puts the brakes on these plans."
The contested areas near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon include lands that contain the nation's greatest density of ancient rock art and other cultural resources. These lands were recently made available to industry through hastily approved resource management plans that have serious ramifications for 3 million acres of public lands.
"Under the Bush administration, the Bureau of Land Management pushed through Resource Management Plans that treated some of America's most sensitive and spectacular public lands as the private playgrounds of the oil and gas companies," said Bill Hedden, Executive Director of Grand Canyon Trust. "Today's heartening court decision gives these unique places a last second pardon from forever sacrificing their archaeological treasures, pristine air and remote wildness in order to sate only an hour or two of our national addiction to oil and gas."
"When we begin to allow oil drilling in the backdrop of an icon like Arches National Park, we know something needs to change," said Sierra Club representative Myke Bybee. "It's time to stop handing over our natural treasures just so the oil industry can make more money. Instead, we could be investing in efficiency and the kind of clean energy that will benefit all of us and leave our best wild places intact."