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BLM Targeted for Lawsuit by Conservation Groups

A coalition of conservation groups on Thursday filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over its amending of 10 resource management plans (RMP) earlier this year to open more than 800,000 acres for future oil shale and tar sands leasing.

The groups said they intend to challenge BLM under the Endangered Species Act for allocating the acreage on federal public land in the Colorado River Basin to the potentially greenhouse gas-intensive oil shale/tar sands development without allegedly protecting endangered species and their habitat.

At issue is BLM's March 22 amending of the 10 RMPs in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. At the time it was characterized by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as being part of President Obama's strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible development of the nation's energy resources.

Salazar announced the action as BLM's "final plan for encouraging research, development and demonstration (RD&D) of oil shale and tar sands resources" on BLM lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The record of decision and plan amendments made nearly 700,000 acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming available for potential oil shale leasing and about 130,000 acres available for potential tar sands leasing in Utah.

In November 2012, the BLM signed two additional leases for RD&D oil shale proposals to encourage industry to develop and test technologies aimed at developing oil shale resources on a commercial scale.

A BLM spokesperson in Washington, DC, declined to comment on the conservation groups' notice of intent, noting the agency has not had a chance to review the filing.

Included among the conservation groups are: Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, the Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild and the Sierra Club.

"Large-scale strip mining of the dirtiest kinds of fossil fuels is neither safe nor sustainable public policy," said Taylor McKinnon, Grand Canyon Trust energy director. "This plan threatens to industrialize back country."

John Weisheit, the conservation director for Living Rivers, said the Colorado River "has nothing left to give," and it's not in the public interest to allow "water-guzzling mining projects" to "mangle and pollute the productivity of this vital watershed any further."

The groups contend that extracting oil shale and tar sands is an energy-intensive process that involves strip mining, melting and chemically separating oil from sand and rock. "Our public lands should be managed to protect our air, water and wildlife -- not auctioned off for dirty and destructive fossil fuel development, said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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