Commentary: This morning, BLM and Secretary Zinke opened their condensed protest period on their sale notice of 114 parcels covering 89,162 acres of public lands in New Mexico, including lands in northwestern New Mexico where local tribal communities have raised concerns about the impacts of drilling.
The BLM is moving forward with these shortened time periods for public comment on these lease sales despite an Idaho court decision last month which determined that the BLM cannot circumvent the public input requirements of NEPA and FLPMA (two bedrock environmental laws) on sage grouse habitat, but apparently can on land long-inhabited by Native Americans.
Despite serious pushback from tribes and locals, Secretary Zinke continues to voice support for oil and gas companies and the administration's energy dominance agenda, most recently stating that, "Our government should work for [oil and gas companies]."
Secretary Zinke and the BLM did, however, defer four leases-- about 1,000 acres -- within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from the sale, thereby honoring the "culturally sensitive area" buffer area that Senators Udall and Heinrich are trying to permanently withdraw from oil and gas leasing by way of legislation. The bill was introduced this year.
Paul F. Reed from Archaeology Southwest praised Secretary Zinke's decision on deferring leases, while encouraging him to make long-term solutions: While we are pleased that Secretary Zinke has made the right decision to defer leasing so close to Chaco Canyon, this just underscores the need for a long-term solution that fully protects the Greater Chaco area from drilling. New Mexico’s pueblos and the Navajo Nation have repeatedly asked for such a solution, and today’s decision provides an opportunity for the administration to show that it is committed to working with tribal communities and other stakeholders on resolving the long-standing conflicts with drilling around Chaco.
The protest period will last from October 22, 2018- November 1, 2018. Protests can only be filed online.