Here's a last minute reprieve sure to make oil and gas companies scream: the Bush administration's controversial auction of Utah's public lands is going forward as scheduled on Friday, but with a major hitch. Environmentalists mounted a last ditch legal and PR campaign to stop the administration from leasing more than 100,000 acres of land near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon—and on Thursday night they bought themselves a bit more time.
Under terms negotiated by environmental groups, sources tell me, the Bureau of Land Management can hold the auction but can't issue the leases for 30 days. That means the agency can collect the payments, but it can't cash the checks. In the meantime, a federal judge will hear a case filed by environmental groups, which are asking the leases to be invalidated.
Five environmental groups, including the National Resources Defense Council and the Wilderness Society, joined in the suit. Utah's most famous greenie, actor Robert Redford, also entered the fight, calling the Bush administration "morally criminal" for announcing the lease sale on Election Day and bypassing standard courtesies of public participation.
After putting out calls and emails to several sources, asking for comment on Friday's lease sale, I heard back from one irate BLM veteran who said in no uncertain terms that the Interior Department has placed the interests of industry firmly above those of the public. Dennis Willis, a BLM manager in Utah who has worked for the agency for 30 years, told me he plans to retire effective January 2. For this reason, he was especially forthcoming in an email, which is worth excerpting at length: