Responding to mounting pressure and protest over the past several months, Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, was forced to back down from plans to auction away public lands for fracking in New Mexico and Montana this past week.
Zinke’s moves were a stunning culmination of intense grassroots organizing, legal pressure, and, thankfully, Congressional pushback. More importantly, it showed the Trump Administration’s attempts to sell out our public lands to the fossil fuel industry are no match for resistance from Americans.
Oil and Gas Sale Canceled in Greater Chaco
Last week in New Mexico, Zinke and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management canceled plans to auction away more than 4,400 acres of public lands in the Greater Chaco region for fracking. The decision came after a record number of protests were filed, as calls for direct action echoed throughout the region, and as Indigenous resistance has been mounting in this sacred region.
To say the cancellation of this fracking auction was a shock would be an understatement. Zinke has staked out a reputation on advancing the notion that the Bureau of Land Management is mandated to auction off public lands, regardless of public concerns.
In spite of the political push to boost the oil and gas industry, not even Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management could ignore the public discontent. And with New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, weighing in to support Greater Chaco, Zinke really had no choice.
The decision drew cautious praise from on-the-ground advocates. And yesterday, rather than protest the sale of public lands in Greater Chaco, dozens showed up at the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters in Santa Fe to celebrate this victory and demand permanent protection and a transition from fossil fuels in the region.
New Mexico’s Congressional delegation also received an outpouring of gratitude over the last week. Hundreds of people took to Twitter to thank Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Luján and Lujan Grisham. Go #FrackOffChaco!
There’s still work to be done to defend Greater Chaco from fracking, but two things are certain: 1) We can win and 2) We are winning.
Greater Yellowstone Spared From Fracking
On the heels of our victory in New Mexico, Zinke earlier this week announced that more than 17,000 acres of public lands would be taken off the auction block for fracking in the Greater Yellowstone region of Montana.
The Bureau of Land Management’s plans to auction public lands in Montana could have been proposed in a more contentious landscape. Among the parcels slated for sale were parcels right next to the town of Livingston, Montana, the original gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Also targeted were lands in the nearby Beartooth Mountains, iconic Yellowstone sentinels.
Once again, in the face of intense resistance, Zinke really had no choice. Earlier this week, he announced that Livingston and the Beartooths would be spared from the auction block.
Without a doubt, this is a victory, but the sad part is, more than 40,000 acres of Montana’s public lands remain on the auction block this month. These even include lands not more than 10 miles from Livingston and public lands right along the Yellowstone River.
Click on the map below and you can see what lands are off the auction block and which lands remain.
Still, the fact is, we’re winning. In spite of the Trump Administration’s push to hand over our public lands to the fossil fuel industry, we’re proving that we can mount enough resistance to derail their plans.
We’re not in the clear yet. Trump and Zinke are still moving forward to auction off priceless public lands for fracking, including nearly 50,000 acres of southern Utah this month. These lands are on the auction block even though there is immense public opposition and concerns over the impacts to the region’s cultural heritage.
But in the last week, we’ve shown that in spite of the Trump Administration’s pro-fossil fuel agenda, we can and we will overcome.
For our climate and our clean energy future, we will continue to keep our fossil fuels in the ground.