FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 28, 2020
Contact: Alicia Ortega, APCG@indianpueblo.org
All Pueblo Council of Governors Request Further Extension and Reassessment of Deadlines on DOI’s Plan for Greater Chaco Region
(Farmington, New Mexico) – The All Pueblo Council of Governors joins the New Mexico Congressional Delegation and other stakeholders in calling upon the Department of the Interior (DOI) to pause all activities associated with the draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) for the Greater Chaco Region until the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.
In February, DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Navajo Regional Office released the draft RMPA with a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The release triggered a 90-day public comment period that coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency. After many requests from APCG, its member Pueblos, other Tribes, and other stakeholders, and at the urging of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation, DOI later extended the comment deadline to September 25th.
Since DOI granted its limited extension, the situation on the ground has remained dire. San Juan County and McKinley County have had some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the State of New Mexico and in the country. The Pueblos and the Navajo Nation have also had significant COVID-19 cases—threatening the very lives of community members, including elders. Elders often play a critical role in advising tribal governments on cultural resource issues, a significant area of evaluation under the draft RMPA and EIS.
Despite the ongoing public health emergency, DOI has scheduled virtual public meetings and open houses associated with its RMPA process and has maintained the upcoming September 25th deadline to comment on the draft RMPA and EIS. This week, BLM and BIA conducted a second round of virtual meetings. In addition, DOI has scheduled onsite inspections for applications for permits to drill (APDs).
The growing pandemic continues to significantly reduce the ability of APCG and its member Pueblos to fully engage in Chaco protection efforts. During a virtual open house on Thursday, representatives of APCG and the Pueblo of Acoma together requested DOI pause all meetings, activities, and deadlines associated with the RMPA—including those associated with the draft RMPA and EIS and those associated with the RMPA’s National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 process—in light of the Pueblos’ continued closures and inability to participate due to COVID-19. APCG member Pueblos have also challenged DOI’s scheduling onsite APD inspections. APCG also continues to support individual Pueblos’ requests for full, meaningful, in-person tribal consultation at a time when federal, state, and tribal public health directives indicate it is safe to do so.
The New Mexico Congressional Delegation in a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt also requested that DOI reconsider its plans to move forward with the virtual public meetings, citing the lack of adequate broadband access by Northwestern New Mexico communities being hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On behalf of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, we appreciate Interior’s extension of the initial RMPA public comment deadline in light of APCG and Pueblos’ impacted ability to participate. As the pandemic persists, APCG and our member Pueblos continue to ensure safety of our communities by maintaining closure or partial closure of non-essential tribal government operations and redirection of time and resources to providing critical emergency and community services, including staff who would be directly working on federal administrative processes related to the RMPA. Many Pueblo staff also continue working remotely with limited access to internet and virtual meetings. We thank the New Mexico Congressional Delegation for their steadfast support of Pueblos and Tribes during these challenging times.”– Chairman J. Michael Chavarria, All Pueblo Council of Governors
“The Pueblo of Acoma has a significant interest in the RMPA due to potential impacts to the sacred landscape of the Greater Chaco Region, which contains many of Acoma’s cultural resources. Acoma, in addition to other Pueblos, maintains a significant and ongoing connection to Chaco Canyon and the Greater Chaco Region. However, we – like other Pueblos – do not have the staffing capabilities necessary to focus on the RMPA at this time due to our continued tribal governmental closure and limitations on non-essential tribal government departments, like the Acoma Tribal Historic Preservation Office. For these reasons, we request an additional extension of all RMPA NEPA and NHPA related activities and deadlines until the COVID-19 public health emergency has passed.” – Governor Brian D. Vallo, Pueblo of Acoma
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to radically alter the lives of New Mexicans, limiting their ability to fully participate in public processes fundamental to the economy and way of life in and around the BLM Farmington District in the Northwest corner of our state. Despite these concerns, several public processes proceed apace, hurtling forward to provide additional acreage for an oil and gas industry with seemingly little need for it, given the worst price and oversupply conditions in at least a decade. Accordingly, we ask you to indefinitely pause onsite inspections for applications for permit to drill (APDs) and the larger public process for the RMPA until this deadly virus can be contained.” – New Mexico Congressional Delegation Letter to DOI Secretary Bernhardt