Interior secretary will not delay New Mexico land-use plan

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. interior secretary refused to delay a land-use plan that opponents say will lead to drilling thousands of new oil and gas wells.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said Monday the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will go forward with the plan for the Greater Chaco region, The Farmington Daily Times reported.

A public comment period ended Sept. 25 for the Farmington Field Office Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan Amendment after being extended from May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Opponents said the health conditions that led Bernhardt to extend the comment period have not changed and further action should be paused until in-person meetings can resume.

“We need to move forward and get this plan done,” Bernhardt said of the resource management plan amendment that has been in the works since 2014.

Staff will review public comments and weigh various alternatives outlined in the draft environmental impact statement, Bernhardt said.

The Navajo Nation was among the entities requesting the plan be postponed during the pandemic.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham echoed the calls to delay adoption, requesting an ethnographic study be completed before the plan is finalized. Congress allocated $1 million for an ethnographic study.

Bernhardt said while the study will be useful, there are laws in place protecting cultural sites including the National Historic Preservation Act.

Bernhardt plans to continue deferring leases within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of the park boundaries through the end of the year, which he said gives the New Mexico congressional delegation time to pass legislation to codify the buffer zone.

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