May 11, 2018

VIDEO: Udall Secures Commitment from Zinke to Improve Public Input Process for Leasing Public Land

Also receives agreement from Zinke to heed concerns from park service and local community about drilling near Carlsbad Caverns

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall, the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the Department of the Interior (DOI), secured a commitment from DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke to improve public input while considering lease sales on public land, after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) updated its guidelines to severely limit public input.

Questioning Zinke about BLM’s new guidelines for considering lease sales on public lands Udall said, “In January, BLM issued new guidance about how to conduct oil and gas lease sales. This guidance makes public participation optional, allows only 10 days for the public to protest a lease sale, directs agencies to avoid doing any new environmental review. Just to name a few things. This takes away flexibility from the field staff to use their best judgement about where, when, and how to lease parcels. I understand under this new process decisions on removing parcels from lease sales must be made by the Deputy Secretary, not the local, field or state director, as has previously been the case…. Secretary Zinke, why has your administration taken these steps to limit the public process for oil and gas leasing? Doesn’t the public have a right to comment on the development of their public lands? Will you commit to allowing for broader public comment and returning to a minimum of 30 days of public comment on draft lease sales and 30 days to lodge protests?”

In response, Zinke agreed to work with Udall on the public input process saying, "Public land deserves public input."

Video of the exchange is available HERE.

Udall also pressed Zinke on recent reports of a lease sale scheduled near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Zinke agreed to heed the concerns of the National Park Service and community members that drilling near the caverns could cause damage to the cavern systems, while his agency considers the lease sale.

“I have heard that some of the potential parcels could impact the cavern systems, or are located in other environmentally sensitive areas. I also understand that the Park Service has shared its concerns with BLM about the impacts to this cave and karst ecosystem from oil and gas drilling,” Udall said during the hearing. “Are you aware of these objections? Will you heed them and delay leasing around Carlsbad Caverns National Park until a full assessment can be done, as we have done around Chaco, to ensure that development will not jeopardize the national and natural treasure that Carlsbad Caverns is?”

Zinke agreed to work with Udall on the issue to ensure Carlsbad Caverns is not harmed, saying, “there are some places that oil and gas production is fine and other places that are too sensitive…. If there’s a legitimate reason – based on science, on either cultural or scientific impact – we withdraw it.”

Video of the exchange is available HERE.

Udall’s opening remarks and video of the full hearing are available HERE.