BLM releases draft environmental assessment for potash mine clay settlement facility

The federal Bureau of Land Management has released a draft environmental assessment regarding Mosaic Potash Carlsbad’s plans to use a nearly 1,000 acre natural playa as a clay settlement facility. The playa, known as Laguna Uno, has previously been used by the mine and, if approved, the mining company will use it as a secondary clay settling pond to reduce the amount of clay in the water that is discharged into an area known as Laguna Grande. A 30-day comment period began Monday on the draft environmental assessment and will remain open through July 23. The draft environmental assessment’s proposed action would allow Mosaic to use Laguno Uno as an additional clay settling pond. BLM considered other locations as well as the no action alternative, which would result in the application being denied.

Recent storms have brought moisture, but fire danger remains

Recent rain and snow in parts of New Mexico have brought a temporary reprieve from the high fire dangers, but officials warn that the vegetation can dry out quickly and that precautions should be taken to prevent and prepare for wildfire. “My biggest concern and concern from fire management is that people may become complacent because we have had a little bit of rain,” Teresa Rigby, a fire education and mitigation specialist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told NM Political Report. She said New Mexico is in fire season and that will continue through June and possibly into July. “It really doesn’t take that much for things to turn around and where it was wet one day the next day it can burn,” she said. Fire restrictions reevaluated in some national forests

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which releases a map every Thursday showing current drought conditions, shows slight improvements in drought in New Mexico this week compared to the previous week.

Feds move forward with New Mexico drilling plan despite community outcry

For nine years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has wrangled through an update to oil and gas permitting procedures for the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico. The update was sparked by decades old changes in drilling technology already used in an area that gained notoriety for having one of the largest methane hot spots on the planet — because of leaking oil and gas wells. In February 2020, BLM and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs together released a set of four update possibilities. All four have been roundly panned by government agencies, environmental groups, tribal governments, Native American organizations and the public at large. Even so, the two agencies will announce which option they’ve chosen as their final plan next month.

BLM boss still on the job despite judge’s ruling

ALBUQUERQUE — The Bureau of Land Management says it will challenge a judge’s ruling that ousted William Perry Pendley as director of the agency last week. In the meantime, Pendley is still at the agency, and influencing BLM policies. For the past few years, the Trump administration has avoided confirmation hearings by putting acting officials in charge of top agencies and departments. The judge found Pendley had been on the job illegally for more than 400 days without a Senate confirmation. Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, said the administration has used shortcuts to advance controversial policies.

BIA: Navajo members can ‘work around’ connectivity issues to participate in online forum on oil and gas development

Representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) told participants of a virtual meeting Wednesday that they can “work around” connectivity issues to participate in information sessions about proposed amendments to the BLM’s Resource Management Plan for the Farmington field office. 

The comments came after Navajo Nation Council Delegate Daniel Tso called for the BLM to “immediately and indefinitely suspend” the amendment process, in a letter that was read aloud by Mario Atencio during the online meeting. Tso represents the northwest New Mexico Navajo Chapters Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon and Whitehorse Lake. “The Navajo Nation is still in the midst of an extreme public health emergency caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Tso’s letter stated, adding that for a period of time, the Navajo Nation was experiencing an infection rate that was “among the highest in the world per capita.”

“The expectation for the Navajo Nation to engage in ‘meaningful consultation’ regarding the amendment of a resource management plan while the Navajo Nation has been singularly focused on fighting the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic is extremely burdensome to the Navajo Nation,” the letter stated. 

RELATED: Planting hope amid a plague

The BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) was initially released in late February about a week before New Mexico recorded its first cases of COVID-19. The 400-plus page draft amendment outlines a preferred alternative that would increase oil and gas activity in the Greater Chaco region. 

Tribal governments, environmental groups and members of the state’s Congressional delegation all subsequently called for the U.S. Department of the Interior to extend or halt the process until after the pandemic. 

RELATED: BLM will move forward on Greater Chaco drilling proposal while communities grapple with COVID-19 surge

BLM decided in early May to extend the deadline for submitting public comments by 120 days.That period ends September 25. But all of the public outreach and information sessions have since been conducted online. 

Sixty percent of Navajo Nation residents currently lack access to broadband, according to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

BLM grapples with public participation amid coronavirus pandemic, while some call for lease sales to be postponed

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management scrambled this week to make temporary changes to its lease sale rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while some groups have called for the BLM to halt lease auctions all together until oil prices have rebounded. The BLM opened a 10-day protest period March 23 for a lease sale of 45,446 acres of public land in New Mexico that’s scheduled for May of 2020. The protest period is the third and final public comment opportunity in the BLM’s lease sale process. While the department is able to accept public comments electronically during the scoping process and after the release of the draft environmental assessment (EA) for a lease sale, BLM typically requires protests to be either hand-delivered or sent by certified mail to the BLM state office in Santa Fe. On Monday, the first day of the protest period, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order for the state, which instructed residents to only leave the house for essential outings.

Chaco Canyon BLM

Navajo government officials, environmental groups want review of BLM’s Chaco Canyon leases

Environmental groups and Navajo government officials are criticizing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over the bureau’s handling of oil and gas leases approved in the Greater Chaco area. Navajo leaders and 16 tribal and environmental organizations addressed their concerns in a letter sent to BLM’s New Mexico state director Tim Spisak last week calling for more public hearings on the issue. “We urge you to reject the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Findings of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessments,” the letter reads. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved environmental assessments for five sets of oil and gas wells that did not address the cumulative water impacts of nearly 4,000 horizontal Mancos Shale wells in the Greater Chaco region. The ruling covered environmental assessments approved by BLM for 25 applications to drill in the area.

It’s not the Green New Deal: It’s the Red Deal… and it’s in NM

Activist Cheyenne Antonio lists the toxic legacies left by resource extraction and industry on Navajo lands: Superfund sites, coal mines, uranium contamination. But fracking, she says, “is a beast times ten that we cannot contain.”

With over 40,000 oil and gas wells spread throughout the San Juan Basin, many Navajo communities are on the frontlines of New Mexico’s oil and gas boom. Antonio, 25, has seen the impacts in her home Torreon, a small Navajo community surrounded by oil and gas development in northwest New Mexico. “Our aquifer right now is under threat from oil and gas industries,” she says. And she’s concerned about a rise in cancer diagnoses in her family.

Opponents to rally in NM over sale of public lands for drilling

SANTA FE — New Mexico is becoming an “energy sacrifice zone,” according to those who oppose the sale of 84,000 acres of state lands for oil and gas drilling. Opponents will rally at the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters in Santa Fe on Wednesday, one day ahead of Thursday’s planned online sale. The sell-off will include 46,000 acres in the culturally significant Greater Chaco region. The sale is scheduled despite 10,000 citizen protest comments, according to Miya King-Flaherty, organizer of Our Wild New Mexico at the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. She said the BLM is showing chronic disregard for public concerns, community health impacts and tribal consultation.

Study: Visitors to NM’s outdoors generate an economic windfall

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The recreational opportunities for hunting, angling and wildlife-watching on Bureau of Land Management lands in New Mexico are matched only by their economic benefits, according to a new study. The research to determine spending on wildlife-related recreation tells the New Mexico story – millions in salaries and wages, products and services sold, and state, local and federal tax revenues. Todd Leahy, acting educational director with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, says wildlife-related activities are an equal or greater economic driver than many other industries. “This is huge,” says Leahy. “I would venture that sportsmen don’t even know these numbers – $24 million in wages?