Animals & Money: The hero auction wrecker

Just before Christmas, an economics student in Utah figured out a way to help the environment by messing up the mechanics of an auction. The Bush administration had Bureau of Land Management auction offer a last minute auction to sell off 150,000 acres near Arches National Park.

Tim DeChristopher, 27, just started bidding when the government tried to auction off the land. That threw a wrench into the whole auction. He went home -- after a brief visit with police -- owning 22,000 acres of land and owing $1.7 million. But he also pushed the price up for oil developers. So much so that the whole auction results are now in question. The AP says buyers were given 10 days to decide if they paid too much. I don't think that offer applies to DeChristopher himself. They may have to have a do-over for the whole auction -- but that would be under the Obama administration.

DeChristopher didn't start off his day hoping to stand in the way of Bush's last minute sale to the oil industry. Instead, he went to his scheduled final exam. Amy Goodman reported in the Seattle Post Intelligencer that one of his exam questions was whether this very auction was fair since only the oil companies were bidding. That got him thinking.

DeChristopher went straight from the test to the auction. He passed the protesters and went inside, wanting to do something more, but not knowing what. Then a woman asked him: "Are you here to bid?" That gave him the idea.

Patrick Shea, who is representing DeChristopher, says that when he ran the BLM under President Clinton he required bidders to show they could afford their purchases. The lack of a requirement was part of the "rush" of the Bush administration to sell the land before leaving office, Shea says. It looks like once again deregulation has not turned out to be the capitalist's best friend.

This part of Utah is pretty desolate looking desert. Clearly people are not just worried about big, cuddly animals, known as charismatic mega-fauna. But the area does have bighorn sheep, vultures, lizards and lots of other animals. The issue is more about oil drilling's impact on air quality, enjoyment of the parks and the fact that the parks area major tourist draw for Utah. It's nice to see the recognition that sometimes not destroying land makes money.

DeChristopher says the most surprising thing was that he bought some of the land at $2.25 an acre. "That's shocking -- that we can sacrifice our public lands for as little as $2.25 an acre." There is some talk of environmental groups buying DeChristopher's land. His first payment of $45,000 was due Monday.

What DeChristopher did may be considered squarely and underhanded. But then again, so is auctioning off land abutting a national park to oil companies a month before you leave office.
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