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Zinke Eliminates Public Comment Period on Oil and Gas Lease Sales

methanePresident Trump and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, are taking aim at the American public.

This time, they’re rolling back opportunities for the public to scrutinize plans by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to auction off public lands for fracking.

This rollback of public involvement was confirmed by the New Mexico office of the Bureau of Land Management (the federal agency in charge of much of our public lands). Last week, this office quietly eliminated a critical public comment period for its oil and gas lease sales.

According to sources, the Bureau of Land Management got rid of the “scoping period” for all lease sales in 2018 because of Interior Secretary Zinke’s push to streamline oil and gas permitting on our public lands. As an official within the Bureau of Land Management said:

In furtherance of efforts to comply with Secretarial Order 3354 and improve efficiency, BLM NM/TX/OK/KS will no longer provide a 2 week scoping period for draft parcel lists.
The main opportunity for public involvement will occur with the 30 day public review and comment period for lease sale EA’s and the unsigned FONSI’s.

You remember “Secretarial Order 3354,” the order that told the Bureau of Land Management and other Interior Department agencies to pull out all the stops for the fossil fuel industry? Well, it’s now being put into action. And sadly, the first victims are the American public.

This action is outrageous. Not only is the oil and gas industry is sitting on a record number of undeveloped but permitted wells, but these “scoping” periods are vital for addressing the environmental impacts of fracking before the agency commits taxpayer time and resources to auctioning off our public lands (often for as low as $2/acre).

For example, in July, WildEarth Guardians filed scoping comments on Bureau of Land Management’s plans to authorize fracking right next to Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.  Guardians raised concerns about siting these leases next to Bears Ears and highlighted the cumulative climate impacts that would arise from oil and gas leasing throughout the West (an issue that we are challenging in court).

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Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Bears Ears National Monument.

And today, Guardians submitted extensive comments challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed giveaway of more public lands to the oil and gas industry this December in New Mexico. You can bet that we’ll keep hammering the agency to hold it accountable every step of the way.

Unfortunately, Zinke’s move to limit public comments will most impact the Greater Chaco region of New Mexico. Starting in 2018, the public will now receive notice of oil and gas lease sales at least two months later than in 2017. That means two fewer months to figure out where these leases are, visit the sites to determine on-the-ground impacts, and develop comments on the leases.

Already, more than 91% of the Greater Chaco region has been auctioned off to the oil and gas industry. Here and in other iconic landscapes of the American West, it’s going to be all the more difficult to defend them from fracking.

This underhanded attempt to thwart our public lands, our climate, and our democracy is despicable and cannot stand.Leases Near Chaco Canyon

Taking away Americans’ power to comment on the fate of our public lands is, sadly, exactly what Trump and Zinke want. They couldn’t care less how many people support our National Monuments or that voters in the West, by a three-to-one margin, value conservation of our public lands over Trump’s call for “energy dominance.”

That’s why, now, more than ever we need to make our voices heard. These are our public lands, and we deserve every possible opportunity to comment on, to challenge, and to protest these horrible proposals to frack the West.

If you haven’t already, go to Guardians’ website and take action to tell the Bureau of Land Management to stop auctioning off public lands in Montana, New Mexico, and Utah. Every comment brings us one step closer to saving our lands and our democracy.

North Fork Fracking MemeThese are our lands and it’s our climate to defend. Trump and Zinke may try to erode opportunities for the American public to get involved, but that won’t stop us from confronting their plans and making our voices heard, whether they like it or not.

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