March 02, 2004

Utah Oil and Gas Leases Stir Criticism Sensitive Wildlife Habitats Auctioned to Bush Contributors, Environmentalists Say

It is a strange (and sick) bird that fouls its own
nest...Yes, Mr. Rove, this election will be a referendum on SECURITY -- NATIONAL SECURITY, ECONOMIC SECURITY *and* ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY...

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post: The Bush
administration has moved ahead with its plan to
auction oil and gas leases on environmentally
sensitive lands in Utah, reaping millions of dollars
from broad swaths of lands near a national monument. A
detailed analysis of the leases auctioned to date,
conducted by the Environmental Working Group, an
advocacy group that opposed the leases, found that
they encompass dozens of critical wildlife habitats
that are now open for development. In many cases, the
leases were purchased by contributors to President
Bush's reelection campaign.

Save the Environment, Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17525-2004Feb29.html?referrer%3Demail

washingtonpost.com
Utah Oil and Gas Leases Stir Criticism Sensitive Wildlife Habitats Auctioned to Bush Contributors, Environmentalists Say

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 1, 2004; Page A02


The Bush administration has moved ahead with its plan
to auction oil and gas leases on environmentally
sensitive lands in Utah, reaping millions of dollars
from broad swaths of lands near a national monument. A
detailed analysis of the leases auctioned to date,
conducted by the Environmental Working Group, an
advocacy group that opposed the leases, found that
they encompass dozens of critical wildlife habitats
that are now open for development. In many cases, the
leases were purchased by contributors to President
Bush's reelection campaign.

Although the federal government routinely auctions oil
and gas leases on federal land, this series of sales
represents only the second time in five years that it
has done so on land it had previously determined to be
wilderness quality.

"This is unprecedented," said Mike Casey, spokesman
for the Environmental Working Group.

The auction has attracted the attention of more than
100 members of Congress, who wrote Interior Secretary
Gale A. Norton last month asking her to hold off
selling leases on tracts in areas eligible to be
protected as wilderness.

The environmental group also calculated, based on
federal lease sales in 2000, that the land leased to
oil and gas companies in Utah would yield average
revenue of $80 an acre a year, raising questions about
whether the government got enough value from leases
that sold for an average price of $20 an acre for the
first year, with a subsequent payment of $2 an acre
each year afterward.

"They're essentially giving land to people who are
influential with their contributions," said Rep.
Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.), who questioned Norton on
the sales during an appropriations committee hearing
last week. "If you put drilling rigs on it or if you
build roads for it, it no longer qualifies for
[wilderness] designation."

The lease sales on previously protected land in Utah
began in November, after the Bush administration
settled a lawsuit brought by the state seeking to
overturn federal protections that the Clinton
administration put on the land in 1999. Then-Utah Gov.
Mike Leavitt, now administrator of the Environmental
Protection Agency, struck a deal with Norton last
year. The Bureau of Land Management had identified the
areas as having wilderness quality but did not take
the extra step of having them designated as wilderness
by Congress, which would have protected them from
development.

The bureau plans to auction off leases on a total of
46,000 acres by June, including the 5,000 acres leased
last month.

"This epitomizes how the administration favors the
interests of the oil and gas industry over every other
public value of the land," said Jane Houlihan, vice
president of the Environmental Working Group.

Don Banks, a spokesman for the Utah office of the
Bureau of Land Management, said the administration
took environmental factors into account in identifying
land for auction and excluded more than half of the
acreage it originally included.

"We do consider wilderness characteristics, but we do
consider it on equal footing with all the other
important resources we manage, including energy,"
Banks said. "Wilderness characteristics are valued,
but they don't automatically trump all other resource
uses and values."

All 14 parcels of land available were leased at the
February auction, with some going for just $5 an acre.


The acreage included seven Mexican spotted owl
habitats, 12 golden eagle habitats and four peregrine
falcon habitats, the Environmental Working Group's
analysis found. Of the plots that have been leased or
are scheduled to be leased, 27 contain sensitive
floodplain areas, the group said, and five plots
leased in November are in areas on which oil and gas
exploration could contaminate the Colorado River
system.

Lease auctions this year in Utah and in Colorado have
partially ringed Dinosaur National Monument, a rugged
and remote area popular with river runners. That
means, environmental critics said, that visitors will
have to pass by oil and gas rigs to reach the park,
which includes the scenic Green and Yampa river
canyons.

"America's crown jewels are being shamelessly ringed
by oil and gas development," said Stephen Bloch, a
lawyer with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Banks said five parcels of land around the Dinosaur
Monument were excluded from the sale.

The auction was lucrative for Utah and the federal
government, which split the proceeds. The auction
netted more than $6 million, the most a land auction
had reaped since 1988.

Four groups dominated the recent bidding: Retamco
Operating Inc., a Montana-based company; Tidewater Oil
& Gas Co., of Colorado; Baseline Minerals Inc., an
Arizona-based company; and the Utah-based Thames River
LLC.

Retamco ranked as the biggest player in the most
recent auction, paying $600,000 for leases in February
alone. Its chairman, Stephen Gose of Montana, gave the
maximum allowable contribution of $2,000 to Bush last
year, as did his wife. Retamco placed fourth in the
2002 election cycle among Montana's top donors of
unregulated "soft money," giving $7,050 to
Republicans.

Gose said environmentalists were overreacting in
criticizing the recent leasing of Utah lands.

"You need to be able to drill on state and federal
lands," Gose said. "You don't harm it that much
anyway."

Gose praised the Bush administration for making his
company's oil and gas exploration work possible. He
described the Clinton administration -- which had
sought to protect the lands -- as "beholden to the
extreme conservationists."

2004 The Washington Post Company



Posted by richard at March 2, 2004 01:12 PM