Environmental groups sue Interior over Utah oil and gas leases

Two environmental groups have sued the US Department of Interior to stop the agency from issuing oil and gas leases in southern Utah's Redrock Desert. They alleged the Bureau of Land Management failed to assess the environmental impact that oil and gas development would have on 12 lease sites.

By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 10 --Two environmental groups have sued the US Department of Interior to stop the agency from issuing oil and gas leases in southern Utah's Redrock Desert.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed action Dec. 6 in the US District Court in Washington, DC, alleging the Bureau of Land Management failed to assess the environmental impact that oil and gas development would have on 12 lease sites.

A White House energy policy blueprint released in May calls on the Interior Department to streamline public land permitting. President George W. Bush also has urged BLM to assess all its lands for potential oil leasing.

Congress is expected to debate sweeping energy legislation early next year that could expand industry access to some oil-rich public lands, including controversial areas that have not yet been developed.

"While the debate has been going on Capitol Hill, the Bush administration has quietly begun to implement its plan on the land," NRDC said.

The lawsuit asks the court to order BLM to rescind the leases until environmental studies can be performed.

There is legislation in Congress to designate part of the Redrock Desert and surrounding area as wilderness area, making it off limits to drilling. No hearings have been held on the bills, sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) in the House and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) in the Senate. Utah's congressional delegation does not support the bill.

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