"This auction was a fraud against the American people and a threat to our future."
Last week, University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher was charged with two felonies for disrupting a December 2008 auction of over 100,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling. Activists had viewed the auction as an attempt by the outgoing Bush administration to deliver a last-minute gift to the oil and gas industry. In a creative act of civil disobedience, DeChristopher posed as a bidder and purchased 22,000 acres of land to save the property from drilling. He was arrested, and now faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of $750,000. The government is also demanding $81,000 in a civil fine, unrelated to the criminal charges.
The felony charges came as a discouraging surprise this month in the wake of the new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision to withdraw 77 parcels from the Bureau of Land Management's December Utah state oil and gas lease sale, saying they were too close to national parks and never should have gone up for sale.
However, the Associated Press, quotes Daniel Gunnell, managing partner of Twilight Resources LLC, one of the affected companies as saying: "We are angry. Tim DeChristopher is a guy who walked in the auction without a penny and cost our company $600,000."
DeChristopher isn't the first bidder at a federal oil-and-gas auction to fail to come up with the money, but he's the first to face criminal prosecution for it, said his lawyer Pat Shea, who was BLM director during the Clinton administration.
The public can leave messages of support and donations for DeChristopher's defense fund at his website: http://www.bidder70.
Tim's statement (4/4/2009):
On December 19th, 2008 I took what I considered to be ethical, necessary, and direct action to try to protect our planet, our democracy, and my fellow human beings. In that spirit of protection, I took nonviolent action which did not harm anyone nor destroy any property.
My actions stopped what I believed was an illegal and certainly unethical auction of red rock public lands in Southern Utah. This auction was a fraud and a threat against the American people and their future well-being. My motivation to act against this auction came solely from the exploitation of public lands, the lack of a transparent and participatory government, and the imminent danger of climate change.
I acted openly and honestly because I was then, and still am ready today, to accept and suffer the consequences of my actions. I had hoped the wheels of justice, particularly with a new Administration, would recognize the impetus of my actions and the merit of their results, by choosing not prosecute me, especially in light of the leases in question being voided by the new Administration. You can well imagine my shock and disappointment to find out that my hopes were misguided, and my future may well rest in the hands of a jury of my peers.
I have been gifted with a proven legal team, spearheaded by the efforts of Ron Yengich and Pat Shea. In a matter which will undoubtedly go to trial, they will have a chance to demonstrate the corruption of a system that "awards" oil and gas leases to the highest bidders, while the public and the environment are without any legitimate competing representation, thus consigning them to the catastrophic effects of climate change. This trial will be an opportunity to address our moral imperative to craft and defend a livable future for our children.
It is my deepest hope that my actions will be understood by others in the context in which they were forced to play out, and that those people who come to know what has befallen me here is the direct result of the corrosive manipulation that grips our system by the throat, choking off the oxygen of free and fair choice our democracy requires.
I am profoundly grateful for the the enormous support which I have already received, and I have every belief it will continue in the future. As my initial actions taught me, it is still possible to work for change, real change. I know I don't stand alone in that belief or in the fight that is gathering even as I type these words. And as my actions inspire others to work for change of all stripes, any consequences I have to face will be well worth it.
my post about the original action (3 months ago): http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/2105114-young-activist-defends-canyon-environment-with-an-unusual-action