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Protesters Disrupt BLM Auction

Climate activists have been stepping up their protests of federal oil and gas leasing in the West this year. And on Tuesday they crashed a mineral-lease auction in Salt Lake City.

The disruption began in a conference room at the Main Library almost as soon as the first call for bids. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management was auctioning four parcels totaling over 7,000 acres in central Utah.

Police escorted protestors from the room. Then some activists who remained started singing. And they were removed, too.

Kent Hoffman, deputy director for land and minerals in the BLM’s Utah office, says his agency vets the parcels carefully to have a minimal impact on the environment.

“It’s a challenge,” he said, “the idea that we balance one resource against another and do sufficient mitigation to make sure we don’t do unnecessary, undue damage to one resource by developing another or protecting one at the expense of another  -- that’s our job.”

Around 20 minutes after the auction began, it ended.

BLM had sold two parcels spanning almost four thousand acres.

Meanwhile, the protestors gathered outside. Victoria Ramos walked from library holding an auction packet.

“I’m homeless,” she said. “I don’t actually have the funds to get this. But they were protesting because they really felt the land, a piece of land, was gonna be destroyed by somebody who was going to build something on it.

“And I figured, ‘Okay, what if I purchase the land  -- that I can’t afford – and give it to someone who can’.”

Protestors congratulated Ramos for her courage. One even volunteered to pay for the lease, just over $6,000 due at BLM offices by the day’s end. It was climate activist and retired University of Utah economics professor, Hans Ehrbar.

“This’ll be yours,” Ramos told Ehrbar.

“No,” he said. “It’s yours.”

“But you’re paying this for me?”


“Ohmygod,” said Ramos, “I’m gonna cry.”

Ehrbar’s not sure about the future of the 1,700-acre parcel that Ramos bought. But he described the disruption as a success, with young and old protesters weighing in.

Ramos delivered a cashier’s check to BLM before lunchtime.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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