When the Bureau of Land Management announced last month that hundreds of thousands of acres of Utah’s redrock country would be up for oil and gas leasing, the agency made something of an end-run around public process. It announced the sale on Nov. 4, when everyone was distracted by the presidential election, and it failed to ask the National Park Service for input, though much of the land in question was near Canyonlands, Arches and Dinosaur National Monument. (In the past, the BLM has given its sister agency months to comment on proposals that could affect views, air and water quality on national park lands.)
So it seems fitting that a student protester off the street was able to make his own end-run around the BLM’s auction process. On Dec. 19, 27-year-old Tim DeChristopher walked in the door of the BLM's state office in Salt Lake, got himself a bidding paddle and managed to win 22,000 acres for $1.8 million and drive up prices on other parcels by an estimated $500,000. DeChristopher has no intention of paying, and the parcels he won wouldn’t be available for lease again until Barack Obama is in office, meaning they may not be leased for energy development at all. If the BLM’s rush in the waning days of the Bush administration left no time for adequate environmental analysis or public process, DeChristopher told Democracy Now, it also meant the agency “didn’t have time to make sure that all the bidders were bonded, which is how I got in so easily.” Oops.