NM Delegation Calls for Public Comment Period Extension for Chaco Canyon Draft Resource Management Plan for at Least 120 Days

March 31, 2020
Press Release
Despite public health emergency that requires New Mexicans to stay home, Interior has not provided updates as to how it will adjust its Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement public comment deadline and processes

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), along with U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt asking for the Department of Interior to extend the public comment period for the joint Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the area around Chaco Culture National Historical Park by at least 120-days due to the limited ability of the public to participate during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

In February, the Bureau of Land Management Farmington Field Office, in coordination with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, released a joint Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement (RMPA/EIS) to analyze and update resource management issues in the area around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, triggering a 90-day public comment period ending May 28th.

“We are in the midst of dealing with a global pandemic and public health crisis with the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and many State, Local, and Tribal leaders and their communities are diligently working to ensure that their families and communities are safe during this unprecedented time. However, ongoing land-use planning processes continue,”wrote the lawmakers.

“Due to rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19, it is imperative that the public be given sufficient time to submit comments on the RMPA/EIS. Therefore, we ask that the Department extend the comment period of the aforementioned RMPA/EIS by at least 120-days, to allow sufficient time for comments after the threat of pandemic has passed,” the lawmakers continued.

In 2019, the delegation secured protections for the Chaco Canyon area in the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The bill prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from leasing oil, gas, and minerals on BLM land within a 10-mile radius of the park, reinforcing a long-standing “buffer zone” – developed in close coordination with the federal government, the state, the Navajo Nation and Pueblos -- to safeguard sacred sites and sensitive cultural items. The prohibition applies while a Tribally-led cultural resources investigation is undertaken in the area, which is funded by $1 million in the bill to allow Tribes to identify culturally and historically significant areas. The bill includes strong protections for Indian Tribes and allottees to ensure they can continue to make their own decisions on how and whether to develop their own lands for oil and gas.

The full letter can be found below and HERE.

 

The Honorable David Bernhardt

Secretary of the Interior

1849 C Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20240

 

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are in the midst of dealing with a global pandemic and public health crisis with the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and many State, Local, and Tribal leaders and their communities are diligently working to ensure that their families and communities are safe during this unprecedented time. However, ongoing land-use planning processes continue.

The Bureau of Land Management Farmington Field Office, in with coordination with the Bureau of Indian Affairs has prepared a joint Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement (RMPA/EIS) to analyze and update resource management issues in the area around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The public has been invited to participate in the planning process by providing comments during a 90-day public comment and review period which began on February 28, 2020. Due to rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19, it is imperative that the public be given sufficient time to submit comments on the RMPA/EIS. Therefore, we ask that the Department extend the comment period of the aforementioned RMPA/EIS by at least 120-days, to allow sufficient time for comments after the threat of pandemic has passed.

Furthermore, the U.S. government has specific trust and treaty responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs). And as you know, the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill as part of the FY20 spending package (P.L. 116-94) signed into law included $1 million for an ethnographic study conducted by Tribes to be included in the RMPA/EIS. Therefore we also ask that Tribes be given the same extension during the scoping process to ensure their direct participation in crafting the study.

Thank you again for your attention to these matters. Public comments are a critical part of any environmental review process. We look forward to working with you.

 

Sincerely,