Activist Indicted for Monkeywrenching Energy Lease Auction

Mike Gaworecki is the Web Editor for Greenpeace USA. He’ll be making regular updates here at Stop Global Warming on climate and clean energy activism. Welcome, Mike!

The Obama administration has put the brakes on a Bush administration plan to open pristine Utah wildlands to oil and gas drilling. But an environmental activist who staged a one-man act of civil disobedience to do the same is being indicted on federal felony charges.

Last December 19, Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old University of Utah economics student, threw a giant monkeywrench into an auction for federal leases to drill for oil and gas on public lands. By bidding on several of the parcels — even though he had no intention of actually paying for them — DeChristopher won the rights to 22,500 acres of land near two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, and drove the prices for several other parcels up by thousands of dollars.

DeChristopher did this with full knowledge of the potential consequences. It was a truly courageous act. He was willing to take whatever punishment came down, for the greater cause of protecting our planet and attempting to stop pillagers like oil and gas companies, as well as their allies in the Bush administration, from prolonging our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.

On April 1, DeChristopher was indicted by a federal grand jury on two felony counts of “auction-rigging,” as well as being slapped with hefty fines by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Utah, and by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, which ran the auction. Bidder 70 is now facing up to 10 years in prison and over $800,000 in fines.

The damage that would be done to Utah’s wildlands and wildlife by oil and gas exploration, compounded by the damage that would be done to the Earth by prolonging our addiction to dirty fossil fuels, far outweighs the damage DeChristopher is alleged to have done by interfering with this reckless auction. For that reason and that reason alone, these charges and fines should be dismissed, if there is any justice in the world.

President Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar,
ordered a review of 77 of the parcels
auctioned off in December, including all of the parcels “won” by DeChristopher, making those parcels ineligible for lease. If even the Obama Administration thinks these auctions were not proper, what harm can DeChristopher be said to have done?

He simply used the only means available to him to stand up for what’s right.

You can read more, follow new developments in this story, and donate to DeChristopher’s legal defense fund on his website, bidder70.org. By rallying behind DeChristopher, we can show corporate polluters, their allies in Congress, and our allies in Congress and the Obama administration alike the strength of the grassroots environmental movement in this country.

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