Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) Thursday called on Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to halt oil and natural gas lease sales of wilderness-quality land in Utah, as well as put a hold on any new drilling on lands that are already leased but not producing.

In a statement issued after Kempthorne testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday, Hinchey said there was no need for the Bush administration to lease additional wilderness-quality lands in light of the high number of already-issued leases that are not producing oil and gas.

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is continuing to offer leases to oil and gas producers when its own data indicate there is a national surplus of more than 24 million acres of onshore federal land that is leased but not producing, he said. This includes approximately three million acres of public lands that are under lease in Utah, but not currently in production.

In a letter to Kempthorne, Hinchey asked Kempthorne to direct the BLM State Office in Utah to stop offering for sale federal oil and gas leases on lands identified as containing wilderness characteristics, and to put off any new drilling on wilderness-quality lands that are already under lease.

Hinchey said he plans to reintroduce legislation in the coming weeks that would ensure that the 9.4 million acres in Utah remain wild in their natural state.

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