May 01, 2020

AUDIO: Udall, Tribal Leaders, Experts Demand Trump Administration Give Communities Hit Hard by COVID-19 Time to Comment on Proposed Interior Department Chaco Drilling Plans

As comment period on controversial plan nears close, Interior Department should heed calls from entire NM congressional delegation, Tribes to listen to local voices sidelined by pandemic

AUDIO LINK: Senator Udall’s remarks begin at minute 1:06 here.

SANTA FE, N.M.—Today U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) joined Tribal leaders and other experts on a press conference call urging the Trump administration to extend the period for public input on the controversial draft Farmington Resource Management Plan Amendment – which includes the Interior Department’s preferred alternative to open up more areas around Chaco Culture National Historical Park to oil and gas drilling. The call follows BLM’s April 29 announcement that it would proceed with “virtual” public meetings and failed to grant more time to participate to Northwest New Mexico communities that often lack adequate broadband and are being hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of our resources and attention in northwest New Mexico should be directed toward stopping the spread of the virus, keeping families safe, and mitigating the economic hardship,” Udall said. “These communities cannot be expected to turn their attention to a public comment process in the middle of a crisis. And this administration is just plain tone-deaf if they don’t understand this. This week, BLM announced it is moving forward with holding virtual meetings to gather input. BLM said these virtual meetings will ‘increase by orders of magnitude those able to participate.’ Talk about out-of-touch. BLM ignores the fact that Tribes and Pueblos and other communities in northwest New Mexico have some of the lowest rates of broadband access in our state. Hopping onto a virtual meeting just isn’t an option for many that are most affected by this planning process.” 

Udall was joined on the call by J. Michael Chavarria, Governor of Santa Clara Pueblo and Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors; Daniel E. Tso, Navajo Nation Council Delegate; Sarah Cottrell Propst, Cabinet Secretary, New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources; and Paul F. Reed, Preservation, Archaeologist and Chaco Scholar, Archaeology Southwest.

Many communities directly impacted by the Chaco drilling proposal have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Navajo Nation and Pueblos for whom the greater Chaco landscape is sacred. As a result, requests to the Trump administration and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to extend the period for public input and give these local voices the opportunity to be heard have poured in from Tribes – including the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Pueblo of Laguna, Santa Clara Pueblo, Pueblo of Acoma, and Counselor Chapter House  state leaders and New Mexico’s entire Congressional Delegation.

Speakers discussed how Tribes, Pueblos, and local communities cannot be expected to meaningfully engage in the 90-day comment period, set to end May 28th, 2020, while in the middle of a public health and economic crisis. Northwest New Mexico has some of the highest rates of positive cases in the state, and all resources should be directed toward reducing the spread of the virus and mitigating the economic hardship. Thus far, the Interior Department has refused to extend the comment period. 

Udall’s remarks are below and the audio is available here:

1:06 Hello everyone. We’re here today to call upon the Trump Interior Department to acknowledge the public health crisis unfolding before our eyes – to recognize the terrible impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Tribes, Pueblos, and communities throughout northwest New Mexico.

1:28 We’re here to call upon DOI to do the right thing and the reasonable thing: extend the comment period on the Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement for the greater Chaco Canyon area so that the Tribes, Pueblos, and communities that have a stake in how Chaco resources are managed have a fair opportunity to make their views known.

1:57 The Navajo Nation is in the throes of an unprecedented outbreak, with almost 2,000 cases. Pueblos in northwest New Mexico are facing outbreaks of their own. 

2:09 McKinley, San Juan, and Sandoval counties have the highest number of cases in the state, besides the metropolitan Albuquerque area. 

2:17 All of our resources and attention in northwest New Mexico should be directed toward stopping the spread of the virus, keeping families safe, and mitigating the economic hardship.

2:30 These communities cannot be expected to turn their attention to a public comment process in the middle of a crisis. And this administration is just plain tone-deaf if they don’t understand this.

2:43 This week, BLM announced it is moving forward with holding virtual meetings to gather input. BLM said these virtual meetings will “increase by orders of magnitude those able to participate.” 

3:00 Talk about out-of-touch. BLM ignores the fact that Tribes and Pueblos and other communities in northwest New Mexico have some of the lowest rates of broadband access in our state. Hopping onto a virtual meeting just isn’t an option for many that are most affected by this planning process. 

3:24 And let me reiterate: Tribes, Pueblos, and other communities – even those with adequate broadband – can’t be expected to focus on this federal government process in a time of crisis. 

3:36 These virtual meetings are no substitute for giving people more time.

3:41 This RMPA has been 11 years in the making. Eleven years. We can extend the comment period for four months.

3:51 Doing so will give Tribes, Pueblos, and communities that are directly impacted a genuine opportunity to participate.

4:00 The greater Chaco landscape is the ancestral home to many Tribes and Pueblos. It is home to thousands of sacred sites and objects that have been there for centuries. It is a uniquely special place that we can’t get back once destroyed.

4:20 A short extension of this process – out of respect and concern for the Tribes, Pueblos, and communities impacted – is imperative.

18:15 Udall and speakers take questions.