Bush’s Last-Minute Land Grab Halted

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This weekend, a last-minute Bush maneuver that would have made more than 110,000 acres of federal land available to oil and gas exploration was halted by a temporary restraining order issued by a District Court judge, reports the Los Angeles Times. As we wrote in our September/October 2008 issue, environmentalists say the recent attempts to free up public lands for oil and gas companies were “parting gifts” to the energy industry by Bush’s Interior Department. Made official in mid-December, the move would have given oil and gas companies the right to begin drilling in sensitive riparian areas and key wildlife corridors throughout Utah. Several environmental groups, including the NRDC and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, filed suit against the government to stop the Interior Department from leasing the lands. In his decision this weekend, Judge Ricardo Urbina found that the groups’ logic held, and that any energy development would be “…far outweighed by the public interest in avoiding irreparable damage to public lands and the environment.” Some of the leased lands, which included parts of Canyonlands National Park and Dinosaur National Monument, contained ancient rock art and other sensitive cultural resources. However, though Judge Urbina’s ruling keeps Utah’s public lands safe pending a decision by the Obama administration, it doesn’t help the land in five other states that have also been slated for increased drilling by the Bush administration.

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