Groups: Gas leases violate roadless rule
Environmentalists on Wednesday erected a paper roadblock they hope will keep drilling rigs out of a roadless area southwest of Carbondale.A coalition of environmental groups filed an administrative appeal of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management decision to auction off gas leases in the Thompson Creek area in May.The groups contend the leases violate the White River National Forest Plan, which says the U.S. Forest Service will uphold the national Roadless Area Conservation Rule and not allow leasing in roadless areas.The roadless rule is itself the subject of a legal appeal. The Clinton administration instituted the rule to protect roadless areas from development, but the Bush administration rescinded it, and the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is due to decide on the rule’s status.In the meantime, environmentalists say, the rule should continue to be followed.”This appeal is an opportunity to reaffirm our own position on the roadless rule, and let the agency know that they should not be issuing leases in roadless areas until the matter has been decided in the courts,” Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop in Aspen, said in a news release from the coalition.The appeal of the gas leases is not a legal one, but instead will be heard by the Interior Board of Land Appeals, a quasi-judicial body within the U.S. Department of the Interior, of which the BLM is a part.Although the land in question belongs to the Forest Service, the BLM conducts gas leasing auctions on national forest as well as BLM land.The Wilderness Workshop, the White River Conservation Project, the Colorado Mountain Club, the Western Colorado Congress, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and The Wilderness Society filed the appeal.”We are disappointed that we have to take this next step, but this administration has turned a deaf ear to the concerns of local communities, and we hope our appeal gets their attention,” Shoemaker said. “People are telling us that they are willing to lie in front of the bulldozers. We hope to stave that off by filing this appeal, giving the administration another chance to reconsider these ill-advised leases.”The environmental coalition and Pitkin County previously filed a formal protest of the leases with the BLM.In announcing its appeal Wednesday, the coalition cited public outcry over the leases, including a petition of opposition signed by more than 700 people in the Carbondale area. More than 100 people also attended a community meeting environmental groups held there regarding the leases.According to the coalition, it has 30 days in which to submit its brief to the IBLA, and the BLM has 30 days from then to respond. So a decision on the appeal isn’t expected for at least 60 days, and could take much longer.The gas lease appeal was announced late Wednesday afternoon, and a White River National Forest representative could not be reached for comment.Vaughn Whatley, state representative for the BLM, said he hadn’t seen the appeal and couldn’t comment on the claim that the roadless rule must be followed.”I wouldn’t want to speculate as to how we would proceed until we have received a ruling from the IBLA. We’ll get a ruling from them as to how to proceed.””Protests are part of the democratic process that we go through and we certainly encourage and support,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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