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Why Bush's Last Minute Land Giveaway in Utah Matters

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I thought I couldn't be shocked any more. After all, the past eight years have taught me that despite the availability of clean energy technology, the Bush administration will always place oil and gas drilling above all other options.

But still I was caught by surprise when the Bureau of Land Management announced it plans to hand over 6.4 million acres of public lands near some of Utah's most famous national parks to oil and gas companies.

This parting gift to energy executives--the equivalent of swag at the end of Bush's long, industry-crammed bacchanal--hit a new low. Here is why.

1. Utah's Redrock Country Is One-of-a-Kind
While it may look like an empty expanse on the map, Southern Utah is full of fantastical landscapes that can be seen nowhere else.

I first journeyed there after college, when nothing in my East Coast background prepared me for the red, sinuous canyon walls, the fine pink sand, the wind-sculpted rock towers--or the rattlesnake I almost sat on after a dip in a cool wash. I don't get to return as often as I like, but the memory of lying on smooth slick rock like a lizard basking in the sun rejuvenates me still.

2. The Public Uses This Public Land
Southern Utah is a mecca for Patagonia-clad rock climbers and diehard river rats, but they aren't the only ones who feel its pull. Families flock to the area for spectacular and inexpensive vacations. In the fall, the region is full of senior citizens enjoying our nation's accessible natural heritage.

If the BLM has its way, those vacations will look a lot different. Imagine traveling to see world-famous Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, only to have your experience of high-desert beauty marred by industrial drill sites just 1.3 miles away from the arch.
Other favorite sites are vulnerable as well. The BLM wants to lease land next to:

• Dinosaur National Park, where dinosaur-loving children watch paleontologists at work on active digs
• Desolation Canyon on the Green River, a favorite of boaters since John Wesley Powell wrote about it in 1896
• Nine Mile Canyon, an outdoor gallery covered with rock art that sheds light on life among the Anasazi
• Slick Rock Trail, the route that made Moab a center of mountain biking

3. Not Just Scattered Drill Pads, But an Industrial Network
Exploration may start with drill sites here and there, but then those sites get connected by a massive overlay of pipelines, pump stations, and maintenance roads. Remember, this is country where you can see for 40, 60, even 100 miles. The oil and gas infrastructure likely will not be hidden by a ridgeline or forest; it will be exposed for all to see and hear.

You might hike through the utter quiet of Canyonlands National Park--a stillness that has been lost from most of our lives--only to climb a plateau and have the silence shattered by the constant, throbbing sound of a natural gas compressor station.

4. Efficiency Yields More Jobs than Utah's 1 Percent of US Oil
Some argue that Utah's wilderness values are trumped by our need for more oil and gas. But Utah has only 2.5 percent of the nation's natural gas and less than 1 percent of oil reserves.

We will get far better results by tapping into America's stores of energy efficiency. Using better insulation in our homes and offices, keeping tires pumped to the proper weight, and shifting to highly efficient plug-in hybrid cars--these are the measures that will not only reduce our reliance on oil and gas, but also create far more jobs in America than the fossil fuel industry can (see this UMass study).

In the coming months, NRDC will not only fight to block the BLM's proposed leases, but we will be pushing the Obama administration to advance clean energy solutions that make drilling in pristine lands a thing of the past.

You can help by telling the BLM what you really think about its public lands policies of the last eight years. Or click here to comment specifically on Nine Mile Canyon.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's blog Switchboard.

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