Utah bidder asserts oil auction was illegal

Utah bidder asserts oil auction was illegal

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Defense lawyers for a college student who disrupted the auction of oil and gas drilling leases on land around some of Utah's national parks outlined in court papers Monday a plan to put global warming on trial instead of their client.

The lawyers for Tim DeChristopher want to call some of the nation's pre-eminent climate scientists to testify about what they said are the dangers that heat-trapping gases have in store for the planet. Prosecutors have objected to widening the scope of the trial into a publicized philosophical discussion over global warming and environmental damage -- points they said are irrelevant to the charges.

Last December, DeChristopher bid up prices by hundreds of thousands of dollars on some parcels and won 13 other parcels while acknowledging he had no intention or capacity to pay $1.7 million for the leases. He was indicted in April on felony charges of interfering with a government auction and making false representations.

Attorneys for the government have argued DeChristopher had other means of protesting without breaking the law and that his case is nothing like the classic example of a man lost in the wilds who must break into a cabin to survive.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Backman declined to comment beyond arguments made in the court file.

DeChristopher's lawyers used Monday's filings to demonstrate why he should be able to argue a "choice of evils defense" for a skeptical judge.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson challenged the lawyers last month to lay out their defense strategy and list the proposed witnesses, saying he was reluctant to "open this courtroom to a lengthy hearing on global warming."

The defense list leads off with NASA climate-change expert James Hansen. It also includes Cecil Andrus, Department of the Interior secretary under President Jimmy Carter; a National Geographic photographer who has taken time-lapse photos of melting glaciers and other scientists.

DeChristopher has said he was acting to curb climate change by preventing drilling, and that the auction he's accused of disrupting was illegal from the start.

He contends the administration of former President George W. Bush rushed in its final weeks to lease Utah's most spectacular public lands in defiance of environmental laws. Many of the parcels were later suspended by President Barack Obama's interior secretary.

"I think we've got very strong arguments for the necessity defense," DeChristopher, an economics major at the University of Utah, said Monday.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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