Environmentalists Launch First Legal Challenge To Bush Administration's National Energy Plan

Natural Resources Defense Council and SUWA Sue To Stop Illegal Oil & Gas Exploration in Utah's Redrock Wildlands

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 6, 2001) - NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) today filed the first lawsuit to stop the Bush administration from implementing what they consider to be an "ill-conceived" national energy plan. The groups filed the suit in federal district court in Washington.

While Congress continues to debate national energy policy, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been quietly approving leases for oil and gas development in southern Utah's Redrock canyon lands. The suit alleges that these leases violate the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

"This represents the first battle over implementation of President Bush's national energy plan," said Johanna Wald, senior attorney and Land Program director for NRDC. "Under the Bush administration, the BLM has moved dramatically away from trying to emphasize resource protection to actively scouring public lands for oil and gas lease opportunities, regardless of the legality or environmental consequences."

BLM has officially directed its staff not only to look for opportunities to exploit public lands for development as outlined in the president's National Energy Policy, but to streamline the environmental review process as much as possible (see BLM's website).

Today's lawsuit specifically alleges that the BLM disregarded one of the nation's most basic environmental legal requirements: conducting an environmental review before issuing a lease for oil and gas exploration and development.

"In its hurry to lease public lands, the BLM has ignored important environmental protections that require the agency to 'look before it leaps'," said Steve Bloch, staff attorney for SUWA. "It failed to fully evaluate and disclose the impacts of these 12 federal oil and gas leases. We believe that violates the law."

NRDC and SUWA say the BLM plan unnecessarily threatens some of Utah's most beautiful and pristine areas while ignoring the common sense alternative of extracting oil and gas from existing, producing fields.

"There are places where drilling is appropriate, and it's already going on," said NRDC's Wald." "But it is unnecessary and inappropriate to drill in these environmentally sensitive areas. We cannot drill our way to energy independence. We simply don't have the reserves. We need to dramatically reduce our dependence on oil and move to alternative ways to fuel our vehicles. By simply increasing fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks a mere 3 miles per gallon, we would save a million barrels of oil a day." (For more information on how we can reduce U.S. dependency on oil, go to www.nrdc.org/air/energy/fensec.asp.)

"The threat to this fragile environment is very serious," continued Wald. "That's why NRDC has listed southern Utah's Redrock canyon country as one of its BioGems. It's an area that has such exceptional natural value that we have included it as one of the top 12 most important natural landscapes in North and Central America that needs immediate protection." (For more information on NRDC's BioGems program, go to www.savebiogems.org.)

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The mission of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and the management of these lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans. SUWA formed in 1983 and has offices in Utah and Washington D.C.