CBS Plugs Enviro Activist Who Illegally Defrauded Oil Lease Auction

On Saturday’s CBS Evening News, correspondent Bill Whitaker devoted a full story to an environmental activist in Utah, Tim DeChristopher, who disrupted an oil lease auction by illegally making bids that he knew he could not pay, which slowed down the process making it possible for Barack Obama to block President Bush’s directive allowing the auction. Anchor Russ Mitchell introduced the report: "The Bush administration has less than three days left, but almost to the end, it’s been taking actions that have environmentalists fuming. One young activist used an unorthodox tactic, as we hear from Bill Whitaker."

After recounting that DeChristopher moved to Utah to attend college and became enamored with the beautiful landscape, Whitaker continued: "But where DeChristopher sees beauty, others see bounty. When one of the last-minute acts of the Bush administration was to auction off some of this land for oil drilling, the 27-year-old student said he had to act."

While the report featured several clips of DeChristopher, and also one of liberal actor Robert Redford attacking the Bush administration, only one person who supported the oil lease auction was given a soundbite, as an unidentified man complained of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the scheme. Redford complained: "They’re trying to shove this in at the last moment, as they’re going out the door. It’s just another example of their behavior over the last eight years."

After relaying that DeChristopher has become a "darling of environmental activists" because his illegal plan was more effective than protests, Whitaker concluded that prison time was a price the environmental activist was "willing to pay."

BILL WHTIAKER: DeChristopher could face fraud charges in federal court.

TIM DECHRISTOPHER: I realized that there would be severe consequences and that there would be a good chance that I would go to prison.

WHITAKER: But if that’s the price, he says he’s willing to pay it. Bill Whitaker, CBS News, Los Angeles.

Below is a complete transcript of the story from the Saturday, January 17, CBS Evening News:

RUSS MITCHELL: The Bush administration has less than three days left, but almost to the end, it’s been taking actions that have environmentalists fuming. One young activist used an unorthodox tactic, as we hear from Bill Whitaker.

BILL WHITAKER: Tim DeChristopher moved from Pittsburgh to Salt Lake City to study economics at the University of Utah, and to enjoy this wild beauty.

TIM DECHRISTOPHER, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: There’s a lot of scenes that just make your jaw drop. It’s really not like any other place in the world.

WHITAKER: But where DeChristopher sees beauty, others see bounty. When one of the last-minute acts of the Bush administration was to auction off some of this land for oil drilling, the 27-year-old student said he had to act. Joining protesters again wasn’t enough.

DECHRISTOPHER: Following the standard ways of creating change, that that’s not going to be effective in this case.

WHITAKER: So, after his final exam, he went to the auction and talked his way in.

DECHRISTOPHER: And they said, "Are you here to be a bidder?" and I said, "Well, yes, I am."

WHITAKER: He first thought to disrupt it with shouts of protest – then, on the spot, came up with a more disruptive plan. He bid on the oil leases, bidding prices way up on some parcels, and outright winning bids on 22,000 acres for $1.7 million. Which he neither had the means, nor any intention, of paying. It threw the auction into chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It cost us potentially hundreds of thousand dollars.

WHITAKER: Environmentalists hauled out the big guns to shoot down the Utah land auction.

ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR/ENVIRONMENTALIST: They’re trying to shove this in at the last moment, as they’re going out the door. It’s just another example of their behavior over the last eight years.

WHITAKER: What the environmental groups couldn’t do, DeChristopher did. And, under the Obama administration, the land probably won’t go on the auction block again. He’s now the darling of many environmentalists. This Web site raising money for the leases he bought has brought in $45,000, but the federal government says it’s too late. DeChristopher could face fraud charges in federal court.

DECHRISTOPHER: I realized that there would be severe consequences and that there would be a good chance that I would go to prison.

WHITAKER: But if that’s the price, he says he’s willing to pay it. Bill Whitaker, CBS News, Los Angeles.