A federal judge sentenced on Tuesday Tim DeChristopher, the 29-year-old environmental activist who disrupted a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction in Utah in December 2008, to two years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson also fined DeChristopher $10,000 and gave him three years of probation. On March 3 a jury found him guilty of one count of violating the federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and two counts of providing false statements. He could have received 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
DeChristopher, a University of Utah economics student, falsely bid on 13 lease parcels covering 22,000 acres near Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands national parks on Dec. 19, 2008 (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22, 2008). He reportedly disrupted the auction over climate change concerns.
The Associated Press reported that DeChristopher told Benson that he intended to disrupt the auction through an act of civil disobedience and encouraged others to do the same.
“You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine,” DeChristopher told the judge before sentencing. “I’ll continue to confront the system that threatens our future.”
Benson said he disagreed with DeChristopher’s tactics. “I’m not saying there isn’t a place for civil disobedience,” he said. “But it can’t be the order of the day. [You] had many other lawful ways to go against or protest the auction.”
Shortly after the auction, a federal judge in Washington, DC, granted a temporary restraining order to seven environmental groups, preventing the BLM from completing the sale (see Daily GPI, Jan. 21, 2009). The Obama administration then canceled leases on 77 parcels, citing their proximity to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dinosaur National Monument and Nine Mine Canyon (see Daily GPI, Feb. 5, 2009). Producers had bid about $6 million on the parcels, which total 130,000 acres.
DeChristopher mentioned the cancellation to reporters while walking to the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City last Tuesday. “The government has admitted to mistakes that were made and reversed the auction, so I don’t see anything that I should be remorseful about,” he said. When asked if he would disrupt an auction again, he said “yes.”
In May 2009 three independent producers and three Utah counties filed lawsuits, claiming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar violated federal laws by withdrawing the leases (see Daily GPI, May 18, 2009). Benson then ruled Salazar had exceeded his authority but rejected the plaintiffs’ challenge because they filed their lawsuit too late (see Daily GPI, Sept. 7, 2010).
In October 2009 a special BLM report recommended reissuing 17 of the 77 leases, deferring 52 others and withdrawing another eight from future leasing (see Daily GPI, Oct. 12, 2009). None of the report’s recommendations were enacted.
BLM spokesman Mitch Snow told NGI on Friday that 57 of the 77 parcels withdrawn by Salazar remain in litigation. Of the 20 parcels not tied up in court, he said the BLM was in the process of offering 17 for auction at its lease sale in February 2012. Snow said six parcels involved in litigation could be offered for the November 2011 sale, but the plaintiffs would have to withdraw their legal challenges first.
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