Environmental advocates are worried that the coronavirus is preventing the public from engaging with planning processes, comment periods and policy developments held by federal agencies – which means an important decision about fracking in New Mexico could fly under the radar.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees one-eighth of the land mass in the United States, is proposing to lease tens of thousands of acres of public lands in New Mexico to the oil and gas industry for fracking. That proposal is up for public comment. So far, it has not been delayed despite the pandemic that’s keeping people at home.
Jeremy Nichols is with WildEarth Guardians. He said that agencies need to prioritize public health and suspend all planning and comment periods. For now.
“We’re held up in our houses right now,” Nichols said. “And as much as we can send an email to the Forest Service or Bureau of Land management – that’s not meaningful engagement in the management of our public lands and resources.”
The Bureau of Land Management is also proposing to only accept physical mailed responses to comment on proposed plans. Advocates said this doesn’t make sense when public officials are calling for less contact with others.
The Bureau of Land Management had not yet responded to requests for comment.