Environmentalists, feds face off over wilderness deal | SummitDaily.com

Environmentalists, feds face off over wilderness deal

DENVER – A federal appeals court Tuesday threw out an appeal by environmental groups that would restore federal protections for millions of acres of potential wilderness areas around the country.The groups asked the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to negate a deal reached in 2003 after secret negotiations between then-Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and the Interior Department.A three-judge panel of the appellate court agreed with attorneys for Utah and the federal government who argued the environmental groups’ appeal was premature because some aspects of the case are still pending in a lower court.Jim Angell, a lawyer for Earthjustice, a firm that represents environmental groups, said the case will return to the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, which approved the deal.The court’s ruling doesn’t affect the merits of the lawsuit, Angell said. He expects the case to land in the appellate court again.”This has bought BLM and the state of Utah some time, but they’re not going to evade judicial review,” Angell said.The settlement between Leavitt and the Interior Department was the result of a 1996 lawsuit in which Utah sued the government to challenge a Clinton administration order that could have led to interim wilderness protection of 2.6 million acres in Utah.Since the deal, Leavitt was named chief of the Environmental Protection Administration and now heads the department of Health and Human Services.

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