Yesterday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) denied requests to suspend the public comment period on the controversial drilling plan for the Greater Chaco region, instead the agencies are planning to hold 4 ‘virtual public meetings’ starting mid-May.

Embittering Greater Chaco Coalition members, the proposed plan to drill between 2,345 and 3,101 new oil and gas wells was released on February 28, 2020 with a 90-day comment deadline of May 28, 2020 and promises of public meetings. Instead of holding public meetings, agencies are exploiting shelter-in-place orders and discriminatory internet access on Tribal lands to steamroll industry’s plan to frack every available inch of the Greater Chaco Landscape.

With the third highest infection rate in the United States, Navajo Nation is currently experiencing disproportionate impacts related to coronavirus, and communities are predisposed to exacerbated health risks due to existing fracking in the region.

In response to the public health crisis, the Bureau of Land Management received multiple requests for extension or suspension of the public comment period including from the entire New Mexico congressional delegation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors , Navajo Nation Council delegate Daniel Tso, and the Greater Chaco Coalition.

Ignoring these requests, the Bureau of Land Management is refusing to relent on the Trump’s Administration’s “energy dominance agenda,” despite record low oil prices questioning whether oil and gas drilling is now revenue negative for communities and New Mexico at-large.

Furthermore, on March 13 the Trump Administration declared a ‘national health emergency’ due to the COVID-19 crisis. Daily lives have been disrupted, impairing the ability of the general public, issue experts and others to conduct their daily routine and engage in oil and gas leasing activities, including public commenting periods.

Since 2013, the BLM has approved more than five hundred new industrialized fracking wells in the Greater Chaco region, having never analyzed the impacts of new horizontal drilling technologies. This drilling has utterly transformed and degraded the landscape, fueling more air pollution, more safety concerns, more truck traffic, and more industrialized development where there previously was none. In that same period, the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors, National Congress of American Indians, 15 Navajo Chapter Houses, the New Mexico Legislature, the New Mexico State Land Office, and over 500,000 citizens have called for restraint, and for meaningful protections for the people and places of the Greater Chaco Landscape.

Since 2016, thousands of members of the Greater Chaco Coalition—which is comprised of more than 200 tribal, environmental, and community groups fighting for Greater Chaco protections—have rallied in front of BLM offices in New Mexico at each quarterly oil and gas lease sale, calling on the agency to rein in unchecked fracking.

The Greater Chaco Coalition is demanding a new plan that fulfills BLM’s promises and will remain steadfast in the collective call for BLM to impose an immediate moratorium on all new fracking and leasing activities, to ensure Tribal consultation at every stage of decision-making, and to offer a full comprehensive health and social impact assessment of drilling impacts on surrounding communities and economic development alternatives to lead away from extractive economies.

Statements:

“It’s disingenuous for recent appointees to BLM positions to hold virtual meetings where there has been a long struggle by indigenous people to maintain their connections to the land. Compounding the post-haste drive, the Navajo Nation is enduring a very traumatic experience that compounds the lack of access to broadband and wireless services, which will limit the ability of communities to adequately participate in the virtual listening sessions. If the tables were turned, and if BLM officials were without broadband, they would be shaking the rafters and calling on Congress to pause this process.”

 

“I view this whole process, through an environmental justice lens, as an example of how ‘energy dominance’ by the current administration is synonymous with ‘environmental racism.’ As a spokesperson for my mother and father, Indigenous-Navajo federal allotment holders, we denounce this amendment as being a colonial mandate from an increasingly authoritarian U.S. executive branch. The amendment to the 2003 resource management plan is a document that fails to take into account any considerations from indigenous peoples and local Navajo Nation governments. The Navajo Nation Council has passed resolutions adopting the United Nation Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the articles that define the need for ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent’ have been ignored by BLM. In the more than six years since the start of the action to amend the 2003 resource management plan, there have been numerous court cases, congressional legislation, and administrative actions that should move BLM to consider a whole new plan. Holding ‘virtual meetings’ is wholly inadequate and we need to have face-to-face meetings. Many allottees in the region are unable to participate in these online meetings because they do not have adequate internet access.”

 

“Despite hugely disproportionate COVID-19 impacts on the Navajo Nation and the known link between air pollution and increased public health risks related to the virus, the Trump administration is again choosing to stifle public input from the communities of Greater Chaco. Steamrolling Native communities in the midst of this emergency is astonishingly cruel.”

 

“It’s appalling that the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department are moving ahead and having meetings online; especially, in light of all the news coverage on coronavirus impacts to the Navajo Nation and people lacking essential resources including internet access.”

 

“The fight to end drilling in the Greater Chaco region is not over. The historic and present relationship indigenous people and the federal government have with each other does not stand on a basis of trust and speaks to hundreds of years of broken promises. BLM must account for the all cumulative impacts of fracking; impact assessments of water resources, archeological sites, sacred and culturally sensitive areas and the Dine communities who continue to experience adverse health impacts from extractive industry. Pueblo Action Alliance will continue to service, protect and fight for our sovereign rights as Indigenous nations and be in solidarity with the all Pueblo and Dine tribal nations as well with our non-indigenous allies.”

 

“Again the BLM is neglecting their land management responsibility to the American public, “to sustain the Health, diversity and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations,” especially during this time of the COVID-19 Pandemic.  How is this possible, does the BLM not have a pulse, respect human existence?  American People existence.  Human lives? It appears You, the BLM is planning to ignore requests by over 100 organizations, over five hundred thousand public comments, dozens of Tribes, Navajo Chapters, the National Congress of American Indians, the New Mexico Land Office and the All Pueblo Council of Governors, for a new Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan, not an amended outdated plan, or a band-aid. It also appears that the current 2020 version of the BLM is mirroring the all about money mandate of the current U.S. administration for our public lands by entertaining a Tribal council’s support of a five-mile buffer zone around our Sacred Chaco Canyon, allowing for more extraction, development, desecration  and contamination, where on the ground cultural, land and Sacred Water protecting New Mexicans and Native/Indigenous Americans demand at least a ten-mile buffer zone.  I demand an extension on a new Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan decision.  The People, New Mexicans, Native/Indigenous Americans must be heard!”

 

 

“In a climate emergency when the U.S. could be an example of sustainable transformative change, they have decided to further dishonor the value of Indigenous connection and stewardship to our land and resources by the complete exclusion in concern to our narratives for preservation. This makes Indigenous communities the example of real leadership and honor in the fight for climate justice for our Earth. The U.S. does not care about the future of the next seven generations of anyone’s children by further investing in fossil fuels than sustainable and renewable energy, and this BLM plan proves it.”

 

“The administration’s offer to hold “virtual” meetings is a callous attempt to propel polluter profit by exploiting a public health crisis. These efforts are criminal. Capitalizing off a pandemic to steamroll revenue-negative fracking is truly a new low.”

 

“This whole process perpetuates the Trump Administration’s quest to kowtow to industry and corporations at the expense of public health and safety. Daily lives and routines have been disrupted by this health crisis and moving forward illustrates this administration’s gross inhumanity.”

 

“It is unconscionable that, in the midst of a deadly global pandemic, the Trump White House and the Bureau of Land Management are rushing forward with their fracking plan to drill more than 3,000 new wells in the Greater Chaco region. We must extend this comment period so that those most affected can participate in the process. The Navajo Nation is experiencing some of the highest per capita incidents of the coronavirus. Silencing indigenous voices in the midst of pandemic, economic collapse, unemployment, and shelter in place orders is unforgivable.”

 

“Time to listen to the scientists, our youth, indigenous leaders, and community members of New Mexico to protect our water, air, land, and future.  In a time of health crisis, it is outrageous that the BLM is denying the extension of the public comment period.  Enough is Enough. Future generations deserve a healthy planet.

 

“BLM has once again punted on disclosure of the harmful impacts resulting from oil and gas development with this plan amendment. Unbridled drilling and fracking has far-reaching implications for human health, natural and cultural resources, and climate change. BLM owes the American people a complete picture of how its management of our federal public lands damages our climate.”

 

“It’s appalling that the Bureau of Land Management is pushing this plan forward while people are rightfully focusing on the safety of their families during the pandemic. The climate and extinction crises can’t afford more fossil fuel expansion, but that’s exactly what this dangerous plan does.  The Bureau of Land Management will face fierce resistance until it stops servicing corporate polluters at the cost of communities and our climate future.”

 

“We call on the Bureau of Land Management to hear us clearly when we say, “Enough, is enough!” Allowing the gas and oil industry to use sacred lands for their own gain threatens to permanently harm the people and resources in the surrounding communities. The BLM hasn’t done the proper impact studies and is, therefore, acting irresponsibly when it offers land to an industry that has shown time and time again that it’s only concern is profit.”

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