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No new hearing for suit over rescinded energy leases

Published January 24, 2013 8:21 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday rejected a plea to re-examine its decision upholding the withdrawal of dozens of federal oil and gas leases sold during the waning days of the George W. Bush administration.

Two Utah counties and energy developers asked the Denver-based court for an en banc or full-court hearing to air their arguments that the Bureau of Land Management should re-issue the 77 Utah leases that were reeled back in by the Obama administration.

Four years ago, freshly installed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar decided these parcels, some just outside national parks, were approved for potential drilling without an adequate environmental review. A few have since been released for leasing. Others were among those jailed activist Tim DeChristopher bought at auction with phony bids.

"It should be the end of the line," said attorney Robin Cooley of Earthjustice, the law firm than has been helping Utah environmentalists fight the leases since they were first proposed. "It's great to stop these leases, but [the Obama] administration needs to revisit these land-use plans and fix their problems in terms of the amount of wild public lands they open to oil and gas drilling."

Uintah and Duchesne counties joined Impact Energy Resources, Peak Royalty Holdings and Questar Exploration and Production in a suit filed in federal court, challenging Salazar's decision to scrap the leases. Last September, a three-judge panel upheld U.S. District Judge Dee Benson's decision to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs blew a 90-day filing deadline.

Benson is the same judge who ordered DeChristopher to prison for disrupting the Dec. 19, 2008, sale. —