Oil, Gas Leases

Auctioned in Colorado

The federal Bureau of Land Management auctioned off oil and gas leases on thousands of acres of Colorado land yesterday over the objections of environmentalists, who say the area provides critical habitat for the threatened Gunnison sage grouse, as well as elk, deer and cutthroat trout.

The government offered leases on a total of nearly 44,000 acres in northwestern and southwestern Colorado, and advocates questioned the inclusion of more than 15,000 acres in seven areas under consideration for wilderness designation. It found buyers for leases on 31,000 acres, bringing in nearly $3.7 million.

"If these areas are opened to drilling, roads and industrial activity, their wilderness character will be lost forever," said Pete Kolbenschlag, the Western Slope field director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Vaughn Whatley, spokesman for the BLM's Colorado office, said federal law requires the bureau to auction leases in areas identified by industry. The Interior Department can review whether any of these areas require special protection, he said, and the BLM deferred action on 16 parcels for that reason.

"Our job is to manage competing resources for the American public," Whatley said.

Census: Minorities'

Data Are Confidential

Census officials sought to reassure minority and civil rights groups that the agency keeps names, addresses and other personal information confidential from other government departments. Some critics remained skeptical.

The meeting between Census Bureau Director C. Louis Kincannon and the bureau's advisory committees was the first since the agency said in August that it had shared population data about Arab Americans, but not names or addresses, with a Department of Homeland Security agency.

"What we did was consistent with the law," Kincannon said at the gathering at the agency's Suitland headquarters. "But it also affected perceptions of the Census Bureau, and that's an important problem to us."

Kincannon noted that the statistics requested already were available on the Internet, and the bureau issued interim rules that strengthened the review process on data requests from government and law enforcement agencies.

By law, personal information from census forms cannot be released.

But hearing that data are being shared with an agency such as Homeland Security's customs bureau "scares people the most" and may lead skeptics to stop answering census surveys, said Karen Narasaki, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.

First-Class Stamp

To Honor Reagan

A stamp honoring former president Ronald Reagan, who died June 5, was unveiled by the U.S. Postal Service.

The new 37-cent stamp paying homage to the 40th U.S. president, who served from 1981 to 1989, will be available to the public on Feb. 10.

The Postal Service typically honors prominent Americans with a stamp no sooner than 10 years after their death. The Republican will be commemorated days after his Feb. 6 birthday.

-- Compiled from reports

by staff writer Juliet Eilperin

and news services