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Greater Chaco Coalition Demands Bureau of Land Management Respect Tribes and Communities, Echoes Request to Postpone Drilling Plan

September 17, 2020
Rebecca Sobel, (267) 402-0724, rsobel@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#AJustTransition, #GreaterChaco, #KeepItInTheGround
Santa Fe, NM-  A coalition of tribal groups, non-profits, and businesses, part of the Greater Chaco Coalition, representing thousands of New Mexicans and millions of Americans sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt today requesting an extension on the public comment period for the Farmington Mancos-Gallup draft Resource Management Plan Amendment to enable Tribal authorities and the public to meaningfully participate with in-person engagement without risk to health and safety.

Under the Trump Administration’s “Energy Dominance” agenda, the proposed plan would add between 2,300 and 3,100 new industrialized fracking wells in the Greater Chaco region, opening up nearly four million acres for drilling across communities and breaking its promise to protect the people and culture of the Greater Chaco Landscape. 

The comment period for the drilling plan started on February 28, 2020, days before the COVID-19 stay at home orders were in place in New Mexico. On May 20, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt extended the comment period after five “virtual” meetings proved grossly inadequate in reaching the public and impacted communities on the Navajo Nation and in Pueblos where broadband internet is extremely rare and many residents lack running water and electricity. 

Adding insult to injury, the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs hosted four additional “virtual open houses” August 26-29.  This public relations exercise showcased a 3:1 ratio of agency staff to Tribal and public participants. Humiliated during the previous virtual meetings, the agencies refused to make comments part of the official record, and chose not to broadcast or post these proceedings publicly despite receiving formal comments of protest  from Navajo Nation and Pueblo community members and Tribal leadership, including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. 

Relentlessly moving forward with its plan, the agency admitted during the virtual meetings that it will fail to consider Tribal-led cultural studies as part of its planning process. The absence of Navajo and Pueblo-led cultural resource inventories defies the intent of the $1 million dollar Congressional appropriation and related prohibition on drilling, depriving Tribes of their ability to protect culturally and historically significant areas before the fracking plan comes to fruition. 

One week before the extended comment deadline on September 25, 2020, circumstances have not improved.  In fact, life has gotten more challenging for Tribes in New Mexico with school age children and youth staying home, nightly curfews, and weekend lockdowns on the Navajo Nation, which has seen the highest rates of coronavirus per capita in the U.S.

In response to compounding catastrophes, and with the comment deadline leering, the Greater Chaco Coalition echoes the calls of the Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors , and New Mexico Congressional Delegation in calling on the Bureau of Land Management to indefinitely extend the public comment period until communities can meaningfully engage, and have stopped fighting for their lives. 

A copy of the letter is available here >> 

A copy of related ads in the Santa Fe New Mexican and Pasatiempo running Friday September 18 through Sunday September 21, 2020 is available here >>

Video Footage from the “virtual open houses” is available here>>

August 26, 9am-12pm virtual meeting session; August 26, 1-4pm virtual meeting session

Clip from August 27 virtual meeting ; Clip from August 27 virtual meeting


 “The use of virtual meetings does not constitute “meaningful consultation” and this amendment process should be suspended indefinitely until it’s safe for tribal citizens and leaders to attend in-person meetings and provide meaningful input. In-person public meetings are essential for this project. Many of the affected communities in Eastern Navajo were unable to participate in these virtual sessions because they lack reliable internet access and are focused on keeping safe. It’s not unreasonable to suspend this process until a more appropriate time. Furthermore, if the tables were turned and BLM officials lacked adequate broadband, they would be raising red flags and calling on Congress to suspend this process.”

  • Daniel Tso, Chair, Health, Education and Human Services Committee, 24th Navajo Nation Council, Representing: Baca-Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreón-Starlake and Whitehorse Lake Chapters, (928) 318-0039, danieltso@navajo-nsn.gov    

“At a time of Covid related challenges that adversely impact a region that lacks basic communication infrastructure, we strongly urge Secretary Bernhardt and State BLM Director Tim Spisak to suspend the Farmington Resource Management Plan amendment process until such time that Indigenous communities have equitable opportunities for meaningful consultation, and to address the land management plan that directly impacts their quality of life, cultural resources, and access to clean healthy air. More than half the Indigenous population in this region already reside within half a mile of a well-site. These proposals require consultation.”

“The RMP process needs to be suspended due to pandemic impacts and an inability for impacted Peoples to fully participate. Virtual meetings are one sided and biased in their lack of space and cultural relevance. A further extension on comment period should be granted until meaningful, in person consultation with tribal Nations and Peoples can also take place. This is a time to be conscious and respectful of not causing further harm or stress to our communities.”

“Again the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is defrauding the tax paying American Citizen public.  Hosting inadequate and poorly facilitated public online meetings and not honoring federal regulations, Presidential Executive Orders and historic U.S. treaties with the Navajo Nation and Puebloan Tribes by not making a “real”, meaningful and adequate effort to listen to and discuss the issues that their communities will face for decades under another poorly designed land management plan.   These are First Americans, the Navajos and Puebloans, this is their Land, not the U.S. BLM/colonists who forcibly took the land from the Native/Indigenous First Americans, inhabitants of this Sacred Land.  The BLM must respect their voice, their Civil and Human Rights.”

“The virtual meeting process has failed – meaningful public participation should occur post pandemic and Department of the Interior should recognize their legal obligations upfront.”

  • Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance Energy and Climate Program Manager, 

(505) 360-8994, mike@sanjuancitizens.org 

“These public relations exercises are meaningless theatre. Tribes, Congress, and public citizens have vehemently demanded meaningful engagement and an extension to this comment period.  The agencies’ determination to drill flies in the face of congressional mandates and tribal trust responsibilities. These broken promises cannot be tolerated.”  

“The Bureau of Land Management must suspend the resource management planning process indefinitely and extend the comment period until meaningful participation by Tribal governments, impacted communities and the public can happen. The government must not disregard the concern and needs of her people; oil and gas profit cannot trump the democratic process.”

“The Trump Administration’s brazen scheme to push its fracking plans in the midst of a pandemic is beyond outrageous. Indigenous communities hard hit by the COVID pandemic cannot meaningfully participate in these sham virtual hearings, which means the hearings are by design excluding the voices of the communities that would be most deeply impacted by fracking. This process must be put on hold until it is safe to resume truly inclusive public forums.”

“Conditions have not changed since the last virtual meetings held in May. Like the last time, impacted tribal communities and leaders were unable to participate in the recent virtual meetings because time and attention are focused on addressing the impacts of the pandemic. It’s wholly inappropriate to hold these meetings and move forward with a process that lacks and ignores the voices and communities most impacted by the draft resource management plan.”

“The BLM dragged its feet since last year after the 9th District  Court determined the RMP for the Farmington Office was inadequate. BLM made one poorly organized outreach effort to Navajo Chapter offices. As COVID has become a very dangerous threat, particularly to Indigenous people who have high risks due to poor nutrition, pre-existing conditions, poor access to adequate health care and clean air and water, the ongoing tribal and Pueblo virtual consultations are ineffective and put many at unnecessary risk if held in person. In addition, approximately 50% of rural citizens have computers to access and be heard in virtual meetings.

 Yet BLM must conduct the NEPA required meaningful public outreach. BLM must, in good faith within the Intent of the law, extend its RMP Amendment comment and consultation schedule to comply with public safety needs and environmental laws.”

  • Peggy Baker, Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens (RACC) Board Member -Government Affairs Liaison, (925) 890-2435, leigh633@earthlink.net 

“This amendment would expose Greater Chaco to even more damage and danger from drilling, threatening cultural resources, public health, air and water quality, and the climate for decades to come. To ensure meaningful and robust Tribal and public participation, the Bureau of Land Management must suspend this planning process – until after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us.”

  • Alison Kelly, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council, (202) 717-8297, akelly@nrdc.org 

“San Juan and McKinley Counties of New Mexico are among the hardest hit by the current SARS-CoV-19 global pandemic, especially per capita. These are also the two counties, wherein Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located and those most affected by the RMPA/EIS plan and proposed leasing and development. In the past, the BLM has simply lied in English in newspapers and to attendees of public meetings, all admittedly conducted without translation into the first languages of those most affected. With the proposed “virtual NEPA scopings”, in which many of those most affected and most afflicted cannot interact, this only serves to illustrate further an unabated, continuing, dishonest effort by the BLM to push through unfounded and irresponsible Mancos shale plans with inadequate public input, made even more obvious and odious by a regional exceptional, extreme, and severe droughts, starting in early 2018, that created a shortage of clean and potable water for drinking and even washing hands in a pandemic and for growing food crops, while the fracking industries only appear determined to use this scarce, natural resource for further development of oil and gas even when there is already an unsustainable glut of production and produced water on the market.”

“We at Archaeology Southwest urgently support our Native American colleagues in their request to BLM and BIA to indefinitely suspend the RMPA and EIS process. The covid-19 pandemic has prevented Tribes from participating in the public process and it is unconscionable for the Federal Agencies to continue without full participation of the Tribes.” 

“The entire country knows how the pandemic has struck the Navajo Nation and other tribal communities painfully and disproportionately. With all attention necessarily put on fighting Covid-19, it is disrespectful and inappropriate to plow forward on a Resource Management Plan Amendment when the affected public can’t participate. We implore the BLM to postpone the planning process!”

 “Many people directly affected by the Mancos-Gallup Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment do not have access to the internet in order to attend the virtual meetings. They must be allowed to participate in person which is impossible during a pandemic. People from some of the same communities hardest hit by COVID-19 are also the people who need to be able to participate in this discussion during the comment period. The Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affair must suspend the Mancos-Gallup Draft Resource Management Plan comment period until the pandemic is over and everyone affected has the opportunity to attend in-person meetings.”

“We urge deferring any action until meaningful public input can be obtained through in-person meetings. Environmental justice demands that the people most affected by the proposed action are provided with the opportunity to fully participate in the process. No harm will occur from waiting until it is safe to meet in person.”

“Our health and the environment are not for sale!”

Other Contact
Mario Atencio, Diné C.A.R.E., (505) 321-9974, mario.atencio@dine-care.org, Margaret Wadsworth, Food and Water Action, (505) 750-2980, mwadsworth@fwwatch.org , Miya King-Flaherty, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, (505) 301-0863, miya.king-flaherty@sierraclub.org, Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (646) 823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org