As the Bureau of Land Management holds its second of three in-person public meetings to promote the Department of Interior’s proposed Public Lands Rule, New Mexicans rallied in front of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque to unfurl a 20-foot banner reading “Phase Out Federal Fossil Fuels: Biden Keep Your Promise on Public Lands and Waters” highlighting the mounting demands to address the legacy of fossil fuel sacrifice zones in New Mexico as a result of the continued fossil fuel leasing and drilling across public and ancestral tribal lands.
While the rule proposed to place conservation on the same level as other uses of public lands, which tend to favor resource extraction like drilling and mining, it fails to limit or address the impacts of continued fossil fuel leasing and drilling on public lands.
“Each new acre sacrificed to fossil fuels is a failure of Biden’s climate leadership that promises more heat, drought, fires and floods for New Mexico,” said Soni Grant, New Mexico Campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Biden has the authority and a moral duty to phase out oil and gas extraction on public lands. We stand with frontline communities here in New Mexico and all over the country to demand an end to sacrifice zones.”
Last Thursday, over fifty advocates rallied at the Bureau of Land Management New Mexico state office to deliver a letter signed by 272 local and national groups, unions, businesses and institutions urging the agency to cancel its plans to auction off over more acres of public lands for fracking. Across the country, advocates are rallying for the Biden Administration to phase out oil and gas production on public lands.
“Despite our continued protests, the Bureau of Land Management seems poised to prioritize oil and gas above all other uses of public lands,” said Miya King-Flaherty, Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. “Climate disasters are intensifying, public health impacts are increasing, and our environment is suffering from continued fossil fuel development. Now is the time for the Bureau of Land Management to fulfill its mission to restore the balance of our public lands and to phase out and end new oil and gas drilling.”
New Mexico has been ground zero for expansion of federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling and related impacts Federal data shows that of the 6,430 oil and gas drilling permits that the Biden administration approved in its first two years – outpacing the number of permits granted by the Trump administration – more than half were in New Mexico’s Permian Basin, where oil production increased nearly 10-fold since 2010, leading to a surge of devastating air, water and climate pollution. Nearly 25% of U.S. climate pollution comes from fossil fuel production on federal public lands, with oil and gas drilling in New Mexico contributing significantly to the “Permian Climate Bomb.” Recent research shows that developed countries must end oil, gas and coal extraction by about 2030 to avoid the harms of warming 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Not only does oil and gas production in the Permian have a profound impact on the climate, but it also greatly affects public and environmental health in the region,” said Kayley Shoup, community organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future. “I fear we have no idea just how contaminated our water, land and therefore our bodies may be by these highly toxic and health harming fracking chemicals. It’s shameful that our health and well-being are up for sale.”
“Many Indigenous nations in New Mexico have cultural connections and relationships with lands being sacrificed to oil and gas, like the Greater Chaco landscape, when they have stewarded these ancestral lands since time immemorial,” said Julia Bernal, Executive Director of Pueblo Action Alliance. “We are at the epicenter of these fights and it is imperative that Indigenous people and their knowledge of the landscape be centered in solutions for land management decisions to address the oil and gas industry, the global climate crisis, and to ensure better land and water practices that absorb the shock of climate change.”
Since 2016, Indigenous, environmental, and social justice organizations have delivered millions of public comments challenging Bureau of Land Management lease sales in New Mexico, but the agency continues to lease more lands for oil and gas extraction. Advocates urge that the Bureau finally take this resounding public protest to heart, and incorporate a plan to stop leasing public and ancestral lands for extraction as part of the proposed rule.
“This rule is an opportunity to right the wrongs of the federal leasing program, but we are still fighting Dirty Deals that continue the legacy of fossil fuel sacrifice zones,” said Rebecca Sobel, Organizing Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Every new well drilled is another nail in the coffin for communities who cannot afford to wait for an end to the destruction of clean air, clean water, and healthy lands. In the courts and in the streets, the calls to end the era of fossil fuels are resounding.”
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