U.S. Senator Tom Udall and senators from Oregon wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt urging Interior to immediately suspend any policy proposals or actions unrelated to the COVID-19 emergency that require a public comment period until the threats of COVID-19 have subsided. Udall is the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. The Oregon senators were Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. The senators sent the letter as Americans across the country are focused on the safety and well-being of their families and themselves during this global crisis, meaning public comment periods on policy actions at this time cannot fully reflect public opinion and meaningful participation.
In New Mexico, the Department of the Interior oversees approximately 27 million acres, about 34 percent of the state’s total lands. Late last month, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) entered into a public comment period for the sale of federal public land in Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties while COVID-19 confirmed cases had jumped to 403 with seen confirmed deaths across the state. “As the country is addressing the public health emergency of COVID-19, the agencies within the Department of Interior should be focused on how to bolster the response to COVID-19 in communities across America, not push through policy with limited public input,” the senators wrote. “Americans should not be required to find and comment on the Department’s rule making, while they are experiencing major disruptions with childcare, employment, and safety.” “The Department is also obligated to undertake tribal consultation for many of its decisions, a process which cannot effectively take place when tribal governments are responding to the public health emergency. Under these circumstances, any policies put forward by the Department would not have the appropriate level of public input and the validity of such policy would be brought into question,” the senators continued.
Udall and the entire New Mexico delegation sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt asking for the Department of Interior to extend the public comment period for the joint Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the area around Chaco Culture National Historical Park by at least 120 days due to the limited ability of the public to participate during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.