Bill would prevent fadulent land bills

By Isabella Bravo, Staff Writer

The Utah Senate could pass legislation to deter the obstruction of land lease auctions for natural resource or agricultural production, if time permits on the last day of the legislative session today.

Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab, recently crafted House Bill 437 after U student Tim DeChristopher, a senior in economics, placed a fraudulent bid on thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management land in Grand County, Utah. DeChristopher bid on several parcels of land in December and cost oil and natural gas developers present at the auction millions of dollars.

Noel’s bill passed from the Utah House of Representatives to the Senate unanimously with 69 votes in support and six absences on Monday.

During the House discussion, Noel prefaced his summary of the bill by referencing DeChristopher, who said he had no intention to pay for the leases, subsequently creating problems for the agencies.

“I think it’s important to recognize that when we go through a legal administrative process that we make sure that oil and gas leases belong to public lands, that individuals can’t come in and play game with those leasing,” Noel said.

DeChristopher said he doesn’t think the bill is anything serious. “It’s a state bill to regulate federal proceeding, which I’m pretty sure they can’t do,” he said. “The bill states that it’s illegal to take illegal actions.”

H.B. 437 would establish legal sanctions under state law for actions such as DeChristopher’s.

DeChristopher said there are already federal statutes in place against placing fraudulent bids at land auctions, but the federal government has yet to charge him with any illegal activity.

“The auction itself was so fraudulent,” he said. DeChristopher speculates that the federal government has put off charging him because Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has since removed the auctions’ leases from sell.

Originally, Noel designed the bill to have a mandatory $7,500 fine and a minimum third degree felony. The House amended the bill Monday, doing away with the mandatory fine.

“These kind of actions where fraudulent bids are made makes a mockery of a process that is intended to be professional, realistic and proper,” said Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan. “People need to know that this is something that people cannot just toy with.”

DeChristopher said he doubts that laws will curb environmental activists from similar acts of civil disobedience.

“I knew that there were big legal consequences,” he said. “We’re fighting for a livable future. There’s nothing that the state Legislature that can do to deter us. We’re fighting for our lives and the lives of our children.”

DeChristopher said he is more worried about House Bill 379, an environmental litigation bill Noel is also sponsoring, which passed through the House to the Senate on Monday. The bill requires individuals or organizations who file environmental actions against the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation or the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration to post a bond before their action can be filed.

“This is a bigger threat and much more interesting than the other bill targeted at me,” he said. “It tries to make environmentalists pay a cash bond if they want to exercise their First Amendments. This bill says people on this side of the issue have to pay to participate.”

[email protected]