Comment deadline on Chaco plan extended

By Miya King-Flaherty, Our Wild New Mexico Organizer

As the public health crisis continues, disrupting lives and impacting the most vulnerable in our communities, the Department of Interior forges ahead with the planning process for its Resource Management Plan amendment for the Greater Chaco region.

The draft, released in February, allows for up to 3,000 new fracking wells, with more than 40,000 existing oil and gas wells in the region.

As federal and state health guidelines were announced in March in response to COVID-19, New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation, Tribal leaders, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Dept., and multiple groups called on Interior Secretary Bernhardt to extend the May 28 comment deadline to allow for the public and state and tribal governments to meaningfully engage. Members of the Navajo Nation and the Pueblos are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, and state and tribal governments are focused on addressing the mounting public health crisis.

Instead of heeding pleas to extend the comment period, 15 days before the deadline the BLM and BIA held four virtual meetings. Virtual meetings do not constitute meaningful tribal consultation, and the Navajo Nation and Pueblos disproportionately lack adequate access to broadband Internet.

The virtual meetings were fraught with problems. There was little representation from tribal governments and impacted community members, some commenters were cut off because of connectivity issues, others had problems logging into the Zoom meetings, and the majority of commenters condemned the online meetings.

The inadequacy of virtual meetings also underscores the history of the federal government failing to meaningfully consult with tribes and demonstrates how marginalized communities and people of color are often systematically disenfranchised from decision-making processes that impact them.

After widespread criticism and outrage over the process by thousands of members of the public, Interior Secretary Bernhardt extended the draft plan comment period to Sept. 25. Although this is welcome news, it took far too long.

Thank you to those who commented, and please stay tuned. We’ll continue working with our partners to call for a plan that protects public health, air and water quality and cultural resources and addresses the environmental injustice issues that impact Greater Chaco communities.

Stay tuned for forthcoming calls to action. We’ll need your help again.

Comment deadline on Chaco plan extended