Interior presses with drilling near Chaco Canyon despite COVID-19
Yesterday, in a press release, the Bureau of Land Management rejected requests to delay public meetings over a proposal to open 1.8 million acres of public lands in New Mexico to drilling, because of the carbon emissions - from the meetings. The draft plan includes a controversial “preferred” option to open up areas surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park to oil and gas leasing.
Michael Casaus, New Mexico state director for The Wilderness Society said:
“It’s outrageous for the BLM to conduct virtual meetings at a time when New Mexicans are focused on keeping their families safe. Many families don’t have a computer, much less access to the internet to participate in these virtual meetings. They need more time to weigh in on this federal plan that puts drilling right on the doorstep of Chaco Canyon. Instead, BLM is shamefully marching ahead with a land management planning process that would dramatically expand drilling in the area. This decision kicks affected communities when they are already down, and citing the reduction of carbon emissions for not holding in-person meetings is a cruel joke.”
High COVID cases. The most impacted communities around Chaco (in McKinley and San Juan Counties) are currently the hardest hit by the coronavirus. They’re focused on that. And while Native Americans make up 11% of New Mexico’s population, they make up 50% of the cases. As such, groups and lawmakers from across the political spectrum have said the Trump Administration should pause rulemaking and comment periods during the national emergency. A collection of letters from stakeholders is here. About 200,000 New Mexicans suffer from asthma, and 400,000 are impacted by lung or cardiovascular disease, according to the American Lung Association’s latest State of the Air report.
After previously acknowledging support for preserving Chaco Canyon, Interior prioritized an option that invites harmful drilling within a 10-mile radius of the historical park. Doing this would negatively impact the health of surrounding communities and threaten sensitive cultural resources.
Last year, Interior Secretary Bernhardt toured the region, and expressed in public statements that after witnessing it’s cultural resources, that he had a better understanding for the need to protect the area from harmful BLM oil and gas leasing on nearby public lands. The recent Conservation in the The West poll found that 73 percent of New Mexico voters support protecting Chaco Canyon, with strong majorities in each political party.
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