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The trial of an environmentalist civil dissenter who, as a student in 2008, disrupted a government fire-sale auction of oil and gas leases near Arches and Canyonlands national parks began yesterday. The then-student, 27-year-old Tim DeChristopher, disrupted the auction by bidding nearly $2 million on leases he did not have the money or intention to actually purchase. He is now known as “Bidder 70” and he is a true hero of the environmental movement.
This course of action was more than just civic minded in its desire to prevent the people’s wild lands from being forever injured by development of these oil and gas leases. It was also an act of intervention on the side of due process and the law. It was civil disobedience resorted to as a rogue president in his final days in office rushed to give away more of the American commons to an industry that brought him to power.
At the time of Tim’s actions, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and a number of other environmental organizations had filed suit against the Bush Administration, alleging that the Bureau of Land Management failed to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act to prepare environmental impact statements before moving ahead with its plan to auction off oil and gas leases in some of Utah’s most splendid and even sacred wilderness areas.
Even Obama’s incoming administration in December 2008 described the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to lease prime parcels of its land as improper, and a federal judge eventually agreed, holding that the BLM "cannot rely on EISs that lack air pollution and ozone level statistics,” which is what the BLM did in pushing the auction forward. Ultimately, Obama’s Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, dismissed 87 of 116 leases auctioned by the Bush administration largely based on the wilderness value of the leased land.