By Eleanor Bravo
The 100-degree-plus New Mexico summer hasn’t slowed the Bureau of Land Management’s seemingly relentless drive to offer up our public lands to the fossil fuel industry.
In a sneaky move, the Bureau tried to change the location of their July 20 auction from Santa Fe to a more remote location in Roswell NM, to avoid a repeat of the 200-strong protest at their April auction. Environmental groups were outraged and bombarded the state BLM office with calls charging the agency with flouting its own 45-day requirement for notifying the public of the change. Bowing to community pressure, the office postponed the sale until Sept. 1, yet still scheduled the auction in Roswell.
This is a win for environmentalists and the public. We let the BLM know that the community will not tolerate being excluded from the disposition of what is supposed to be “public” land. We won’t stand by quietly as the BLM caves to pressure from the fossil fuel industry. Moving these auctions with little notice to remote locations only underscores the disconnect between the Obama Administration’s climate rhetoric and its promotion of fossil fuels. What we really want is for these auctions to stop. Communities have vehemently protested similar lease sales in Utah, Washington D.C., Colorado and Montana.
The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. The public land trust includes federal land—which makes up about a third of the U.S.—and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the waters off the Eastern Seaboard. Federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior. Here in New Mexico, we’re fighting to protect our precious water as well as fragile, irreplaceable lands like Chaco Canyon, among others.
Burning fossil fuels from federal lands and waters makes up nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions for the last decade. Remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have (so far) not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution, according to a 2015 report by commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel have already been leased by industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.
The tide is turning. Last year Senators Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (D-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing leases. Days later, President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline under powerful public pressure.
New Mexico and other western states are parched and angry. We will keep up the pressure to end extreme extraction of fossil fuels, because the clock is ticking on an irrevocable climate crisis where each new lease makes a bad problem worse. The BLM has not heard the last from us.