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July 10, 2019

BY ELECTRONIC MAIL AND


U.S. CERTIFIED MAIL – RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED

Tim Spisak
State Director
New Mexico State Office
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
301 Dinosaur Trail
Santa Fe, NM 87508

Re: Call to Reject FONSIs and Proposed Environmental Assessments, Request for
Public Hearings in Response to Tenth Circuit Ruling

Dear Director Spisak:

On behalf of our members and supporters, we urge you to reject the U.S. Bureau of
Land Management’s (“BLM’s”) Findings of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”) and
Environmental Assessments (“EAs”), DOI-BLM-NM-F010-2019-0084-EA, DOI-BLM-NM-
F010-2019-0085-EA, DOI-BLM-NM-F010-2019-0086-EA, DOI-BLM-NM-F010-2019-0087-
EA, developed in response to the Tenth Circuit’s ruling in Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our
Environment v. Bernhardt, 923 F.3d 831 (10th Cir. 2019). The undersigned also request
that the BLM provide a 60-day public comment period and hold public hearings in
conjunction with the proposals in question.

There, the Tenth Circuit held that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy
Act (“NEPA”) by failing to include “any analysis of the cumulative impact to water
resources from the 3,960 reasonably foreseeable horizontal Mancos Shale wells” in its
approval of five sets of oil and gas wells. Id. at 858. Specifically, the Tenth Circuit held as
follows:

We conclude that the 3,960 horizontal Mancos Shale wells predicted in the
2014 RFDS [reasonably foreseeable development scenario] were reasonably
foreseeable after the 2014 RFDS issued. The BLM therefore had to consider
the cumulative impacts of all 3,960 wells when it conducted its site-specific
EAs [environmental assessments].

Id. at 850.
The Tenth Circuit’s ruling directly applied to five environmental assessments
(“EAs”) and decision records (“DRs”), id., that collectively authorized the development of 25
oil and gas applications for permits to drill (“APDs”). As to these EAs, the court concluded
that the BLM never considered the cumulative impact of the water use associated with the
3,960 reasonably foreseeable horizontal Mancos Shale wells, in violation of NEPA. Id.
Moreover, in March 2019, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social
Responsibility received a favorable ruling in a lawsuit challenging BLM oil and gas leasing
in the state of Wyoming. The U.S. District Court for the District of D.C. held as follows:

Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each


individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of
the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before
irretrievably committing to that drilling.... Simply put, NEPA required more
robust analyses of GHG emissions from oil and gas drilling and downstream
use.

WildEarth Guardians v. Zinke, 368 F. Supp. 3d 41, 83 (D.D.C. 2019).

In that case, the BLM had prepared multiple environmental assessments for oil and
gas lease sales in Wyoming, each of which failed to consider the full cumulative impacts of
other lease sales in the region. The court ruled that this segmented approach violated
NEPA and that the BLM was required to “quantify the emissions from each leasing
decision—past, present, or reasonably foreseeable—and compare those emissions to
regional and national emissions, setting forth with reasonable specificity the cumulative
effect of the leasing decision at issue.” Id. at 77.

BLM’s proposed EAs repeat the same flaws struck down by the Tenth Circuit and
D.C. District Court. Here, BLM fails to account for the cumulative impacts of oil and gas
development on our water and climate within New Mexico as well as regionally and
nationally. Given this, the BLM’s administrative actions are similarly legally invalid.

With regard to climate, it is indefensible for BLM to continue to claim that its fossil
fuel program, which is responsible for more than ten percent of the nation’s total climate
pollution, is “insignificant.” In 2019, there is no denying that continued expansion of oil
and gas production and infrastructure is simply incompatible with any reasonable climate
mitigation strategy. As you know, a massive and growing body of science, including the
Fourth National Climate Assessment and IPCC 2018 Special Report provides overwhelming
evidence that climate hazards are more urgent and more severe than previously thought,
and that aggressive reductions in emissions within the next decade are essential to
avoiding the most devastating climate change harms. The IPCC report concludes that
pathways to limit warming to 1.5°C with little or no overshoot require “a rapid phase out of
CO2 emissions and deep emissions reductions in other GHGs and climate forcers.”

Additionally, when analyzing oil and gas development proposals to assure


compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act, the BLM has only narrowly
assessed adverse impacts to historical sites in the Greater Chaco Landscape. The Greater
Chaco region is more than a handful of iconic ruins. Rather, the region is an interconnected
fabric of Ancestral Puebloan cultural influence and impact. As such, preservation of the
historical values of this region requires a landscape-level approach to analysis and
conservation. Unfortunately, the BLM is not assuring landscape-level cultural protections
in the Greater Chaco region. Rather, the agency is addressing only direct impacts to isolated
ruins and/or discrete archaeological sites that have been previously identified. Worse, in
spite of a commitment to analyze more than 5,000 cultural sites in the region, the agency
has yet to follow through with this analysis.

Furthermore, the short 10-day public comment period provided for these
environmental assessments once again signals to the public that the agency does not intend
to provide adequate time for the public to meaningfully comment on its cumulative impacts
analysis for these EAs. The BLM has provided a deadline for comments on these proposals
by Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Given the immense environmental controversy surrounding
the agency’s proposal, as well as substantial public interest, we request the agency do more
than provide a 10-day comment period that ultimately only includes seven work days. We
request the BLM bring a higher level of respect and consideration to its public process.

There is no doubt that a deeper public process is required. In accordance with


White House Council on Environmental Quality NEPA regulations, the BLM is required to
“[m]ake diligent efforts to involve the public in preparing and implementing [its] NEPA
procedures.” 40 C.F.R. § 1506.6(a). To this end, the BLM is obligated to “[h]old or sponsor
public hearings or public meetings whenever appropriate[.]” Id. § 1506.6(c). It is
appropriate to hold public hearings or meetings whenever there is “[s]ubstantial
environmental controversy concerning the proposed action or substantial interest in
holding the hearing.” Id. § 1506.6(c)(1). The agency’s duty to hold public hearings around
its actions is also set forth in the BLM’s NEPA Handbook H-1790-1 at Section 6.9.1.

Given the massive climate, public health, cultural impact, and pollution costs of oil
and gas drilling in the Greater Chaco Landscape, there is no denying that there is
substantial environmental controversy around the agency’s proposal. The proposal will
impact lands, resources, and communities in the Greater Chaco region, which supports
Navajo residents, irreplaceable cultural values, and invaluable public lands and outdoor
recreational opportunities.

There is also substantial interest in a comment period public hearings. The


undersigned, which represent 15 organizations with more than 1.2 million members and
supporters are extremely interested in having a public forum within which to engage the
BLM and to voice concerns and comments. Coupled with the level of controversy and
interest in oil and gas development issues in the Greater Chaco region, this demonstrates
there is an enormous amount of public interest in a comment period and in public hearings.

We request the BLM hold at least three hearings around these Environmental
Assessments, including one in Farmington, NM, one within the Tri-Chapter region of the
Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation (the Tri-Chapters include Ojo Encino, Torreon, and
Counselor), and one in Santa Fe where the New Mexico State Office of the BLM is located.
Absent a sufficient comment period and public hearings, approval of these APDs will stand
as an affront to the American public interest and our right to due process.
The BLM should take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with the Tenth
Circuit’s May 7, 2019 opinion and federal law. We request the BLM respond in writing to
our request as soon as possible. Thank you in advance.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director


WildEarth Guardians
301 Guadalupe Street, Suite 201
Santa Fe, NM 87505
jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

Daniel Tso, Council Delegate Navajo Counselor Chapter, Navajo Nation


Nation Samuel Sage, Community Services
Littlewater, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, Coordinator
Whitehorse Lake, Baca/Brewitt, P.O. Box 93
Casamero Lake, Ojo Encino, Counselor, Counselor, NM 87108
New Mexico counselor@navajochapters.org
danieltso@navajo-nsn.gov

Jennifer K. Falcon, Communications Terry Sloan, Director


Coordination Southwest Native Cultures
Indigenous Environmental Network 8205 Spain Rd NE Suite 204
San Antonio, TX Albuquerque, NM 87109
jennifer@ienearth.org tas@sloancompany.net

Laurie Weahkee, Executive Director Beata Tsosie-Peña and Kathy Sanchez,


Native American Voters Alliance Environmental Health and Justice
Education Project Program
Albuquerque, NM Tewa Women United
NAVA.EducationProject@gmail.com Espanola, NM
beata@tewawomenunited.org and
Julia Bernal, Environmental Justice kathy@tewawomenunited.org
Director
Pueblo Action Alliance Mario Atencio, Executive Director
Albuquerque, NM Torreon Community Alliance
julia.f.bernal@gmail.com Torreon, NM
mpatencio@gmail.com
Anson Wright, Coordinator Julia Maldonado, Associate Director
Chaco Alliance Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange
Portland, OR Network
ansonw@comcast.net Goleta, CA
jkmaldo@gmail.com
Nomi Green, Cofounder
Earth Holder Community Susan Gordon, Coordinator
Santa Fe, NM Multicultural Alliance for a Safe
nomipgreen@gmail.com Environment
Albuquerque, NM
Eleanor Bravo, Southwest Director sgordon@swuraniumimpacts.org
Food & Water Watch
1616 P St. NW Ste. 300 Mitch Buszek
Washington D.C. 20036 MoveOn New Mexico
ebravo@fwwatch.org Santa Fe, NM
mitchb@newmexico.com
Shelley Silbert, Executive Director
Great Old Broads for Wilderness Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director
P.O. Box 2924 New Energy Economy
Durango, CO 81302 343 East Alameda
Shelley@greatoldbroads.org Santa Fe, NM 87501
mariel@seedsbeneaththesnow.com

Mike Eisenfeld, Energy and Climate


Program Manager
San Juan Citizens Alliance
Farmington, NM
mike@sanjuancitizens.org

Cc: U.S. Senator Tom Udall


U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján
U.S. Representative Debra Haaland
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham