January 22, 2009 by Quintin Schroeder
Something happened on November 4, 2008; the results of which set in motion actions that are still trying to be comprehended, analyzed, and sorted out in the legal arena.No, it’s not the election for the Minnesota senate seat (but good guess).It’s regarding the Bush administration’s plan to have Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lease the oil and gas drilling rights for select lands in Utah.In my mind, this was the Bush administration’s last attempt at 11th hour environmental regulation.Knowing that Obama’s victory in the general election was all but certain (assuming that Bush reads 538 and subscribes to Nate Silver’s logic), the administration wanted to leave one last gift to their friends in the oil and gas businesses.What has transpired since has only been civil disobedience and lawsuits.
On December 19th, the BLM put 131 parcels of land up for sale.One of the bidders was a University of Utah student named Tim DeChristopher.DeChristopher proceeded to make a few bids in order to drive up the final costs for the victorious energy company.Then he changed his bidding strategy and before he was kicked out of the auction by the BLM he won 12 parcels of land; totaling 22,000 acres at a price tag of $1.7 million.He did so without initially intending to pay for the land; it was just an effort to thwart the attempts of the BLM to give away the drilling rights.Then something happened; like all good acts of defiance, this was picked up by the media and soon DeChristopher had a following.A following that was willing to donate in order to help him with the down payment for the lands he had won.Now he has his down payment money, but the BLM might not be accepting it.It all depends on the lawsuits.
Environmental groups sued to try to block the sale of the Utah BLM lands – obviously they still went on sale.After DeChristopher allegedly defrauded the BLM by bidding at their auction, the BLM is threatening to sue DeChristopher.However, there may not be any lawsuit against DeChristopher because the auction itself may not have been legal.On January 17th, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on the BLM sale.Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the Federal District Court in Washington ruled that shortcuts taken by the BLM in order to rush the auction of the land caused them to ignore certain EPA measures that are required by law (oops!).With the sale of the BLM parcels blocked indefinitely by the ruling, there is a chance that the leasing of oil and gas rights might ultimately fail.
With the fate of the BLM lands in the hands of the federal courts, it may be a while before an outcome is known.This gives us time to evaluate the situation in more detail and take a look at why this happened.
National Parks and National Monuments have seen a decline in visitation over recent years.However, despite this decline, outdoor recreation has, as a whole, increased.Where are these people going for their outdoor recreation?Why, the BLM lands, of course.BLM lands offer multi-use opportunities, fewer restrictions on activities, greater prospects for solitude, and all of this occurs in a fee-free environment.With the average Joe civilian heading to BLM lands for their recreation, why did the Bush administration feel that they needed to displace these people for drilling fields?
It’s because the intrinsic value of the recreation is not being calculated.Capitalistic minds cannot comprehend the fact that the value of some things cannot be calculated by a simple equation.The money that would be extracted by the drilling of the BLM land may be able to increase the stockholder’s value at some companies, but at what cost?What dollar value do we place on the enjoyment of recreation on these lands?What dollar value should be assigned to the destruction of land that is considered holy to an Indian Nation (haven’t we persecuted the Native American race enough?)?What about our future generations?Do they not have the right to enjoy these lands once they are born?What DeChristopher did was take these concerns into the auction, thus adding intrinsic value to the equation.
DeChristopher’s perceived value of BLM lands remaining untouched by the drill bit was far greater than the value oil companies placed on the lands.This is why he was able to bid on – and win – multiple parcels of land.The counterargument is that he did not have the money - nor did he initially intend to pay - for the parcels he won.This only helps highlight the intrinsic value he places on the land.DeChristopher was willing to risk spending years in prison to place those bids. That is how much he valued the land. That is how strong his conviction was for this cause.
In order to have the legal right to release pollutants such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a company must purchase a permit to pollute from the government.The government caps the amount of permits to restrict the overall level of pollution released into the atmosphere.Environmental groups (or individuals) can purchase permits from the government, then simply not use the permit.This philosophy/governmental regulation should be applied to the leasing rights of land as well. This would give environmental groups or people like DeChristopher the opportunity to see how their intrinsic value of the land compares to the oil and gas companies perceived value.