MALAK BEHROUZNAMI, JOURNALIST, TRNN: On April 1, 2009, Tim DeChristopher, also known as Bidder 70, was indicted on two felony counts for his participation during a US Bureau of Land Management gas and oil lease auction that took place December 19, 2008, in Salt Lake City. DeChristopher is being accused of disrupting the auction by purchasing 22,000 of 130,000 bids in an attempt to save the land from gas and oil development. The bids comprise a total of $1.7 million, which DeChristopher is unable to pay for.
TIM DECHRISTOPHER, ACTIVIST, PEACEFULUPRISING.ORG: Well, I showed up at the auction, which was very controversial because there was a lot of concerns about the legitimacy of the auction. It was the very last one of the Bush administration. They were auctioning off huge tracts of land outside of Arches and Canyonlands National Park for oil and gas development. So I walked in, and they asked me if I wanted to be a bidder, and so I said yes and ended up with a bidder paddle and then got inside and saw an opportunity to make a really serious stand against this auction. So I started bidding first to drive up the prices, and then actually winning parcels. And I ended up winning 14 parcels before they stopped the auction and took me out and interrogated me at that point.
BEHROUZNAMI: On January 17, 2009, the Bureau of Land Management was found to be at fault for violating environmental protection laws concerning air quality and historic preservation. Federal Judge Ricardo Urbina temporarily froze the sale of 77 parcels. On February 4, 2009, the Obama administration’s interior secretary, Ken Salazar, pulled the 77 leases, which included DeChristopher’s bids.
DECHRISTOPHER: There were several issues involved in this auction. Probably the one that’s gotten the most attention was just the destruction of our national heritage. These were pristine lands right outside of Arches and Canyonlands national parks. And I think a bigger factor is the threat to our climate that’s associated with this drill now, think later mentality that is posing a massive threat to our future. And then the other issue involved in it is the lack of a democratic and transparent process, where the BLM wasn’t following their own rules in holding this auction. And that’s really the reason that it was overturned later on is that the government admitted that the BLM hadn’t done an adequate environmental impact statement, they hadn’t weighed the consequences, they hadn’t discussed things with other government agencies the way they were supposed to. And it also later turned out that the BLM was in violation of a law that went into effect in 2001 requiring them to weigh the impacts of climate change with any decision like this that they make.
BEHROUZNAMI: DeChristopher and his legal team were not permitted to admit this information as evidence during his trial. Also omitted from the trial was the fact that DeChristopher had fundraised $100,000 for the initial payment of $45,000 on the land. In March 2010, DeChristopher’s attorneys made a motion to prosecutors requesting more documents on other bidders who had defaulted on their payments. But District Judge Dee Benson didn’t push prosecutors to provide the files.
DECHRISTOPHER: You know, there are certainly a lot of people that have talked about the fact that I’m facing ten years and, you know, Tony Hayward and the others from BP haven’t faced any consequences [incompr.] action. Don Blankenship and the others responsible for the Big Branch mining disaster that killed 29 miners in West Virginia last year. They’re not facing anything. You know, the Halliburton executives who have scammed the United States government and played a role in our wars and that sort of thing aren’t facing anything. And a lot of people have talked to me about that and said it doesn’t make sense. And I think that in a certain way it does actually make sense that the legal system is a tool of those in power, and so it’s going to be used to protect their power. So what I was doing was threatening their power or challenging their power. And so it makes sense that they’re going to use that legal system against me. We shouldn’t expect those in power to use the legal system against themselves, because it’s their tool and they control it. If we want to hold those people accountable for their crimes, there have to be other ways to do it. That’s the job of the citizen, not the job of the legal system, because it’s really just the tool of those in power.
BEHROUZNAMI: DeChristopher faces up to ten years in prison and is currently awaiting his sentencing by a judge, which will take place June 23. This is Malak Behrouznami for The Real News Network.
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