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Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Palma

ELR Citation: 43 ELR 20009
Nos. 11-4094, (10th Cir., 01/08/2013)

The Tenth Circuit affirmed a lower court decision dismissing environmental groups' case challenging decisions made by BLM and the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) concerning the legality of 39 oil and gas leases in southern Utah. In the 1980s, the owner of the leases applied to have its oil and gas leases converted to combined hydrocarbon leases, which would allow it to extract oil from tar sands. To date, BLM has never accepted or rejected the applications. Between 2006 and 2008, BLM and the IBLA issued several decisions declaring that the underlying oil and gas leases were "suspended" pending review of the conversion applications. The groups alleged that BLM and the IBLA violated the Mineral Leasing Act and other federal laws by retroactively deeming these 39 leases to be suspended, thereby avoiding expiration of the leases according to their terms. The lower court held that the group did not have standing to bring its claims and dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Although the lower court misapplied the law in important respects with regard to standing, ultimately the case is not ripe for review. There is simply too much uncertainty as to when and what type of drilling, if any, will occur on the 39 contested leases. The lower court decision, therefore, was affirmed.