In Utah, 'Possible Turning Point' in Fight to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground

Where environmentalists expected to protest on Tuesday morning, they celebrated instead, after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) handed down an important—if temporary—victory in what has been identified as “one of the next big climate fights.”

Dozens of citizens were planning to protest a federal oil and gas lease auction on Tuesday morning in Salt Lake City, as part of the growing movement calling on the federal government to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

But late Monday, citing “the high level of public interest,” the BLM postponed the auction of 73,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas resources in Utah—which harbor an estimated 1.6-6.6 million tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

In turn, the protest turned into a party. Among the groups celebrating was Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice, an action group calling on the BLM to act to prevent catastrophic climate change and to ensure a livable future for generations to come.

“It has been said that when the elders rise up, it is a real crisis,” said Kathy Albury of Elders Rising in a statement on Tuesday. “Well, here in Salt Lake City the elders only needed to talk about rising to protest the leasing of our public lands to fossil fuel companies, and thousands of acres have been saved from destruction.”

However, the win is not total—and it’s just temporary. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, BLM officials still plan to auction the rights to drill 39 parcels covering 37,580 acres of public land, about half the acreage the agency initially intended to lease.