BLM citizen council dwindles with nominations delay
TAOS — A Northern New Mexico citizens advisory group for the Bureau of Land Management that’s tasked with taking public concerns to the agency met this week for the second time in 2018 without a quorum because the nominations process remains stalled.
The Resource Advisory Council, based in Farmington, is supposed to have 10 members. When it met in Taos on Tuesday, however, there were only four. Two were absent and four positions are vacant.
Rebecca Sobel, with the Santa Fe-based environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians, blamed the Trump administration for delaying approval of nominees, blasting what she called a consistent effort “to silence the public and stifle engagement when it comes to public lands management.
The stalled nominations are “evidence of this administration’s unwavering support for an unsustainable fossil fuel industry,” she added.
The group’s lack of a quorum didn’t stop Daniel Tso, a former Navajo Nation tribal councilman, from making the four-hour drive Tuesday to speak about hydraulic fracturing in San Juan County.
Although the council is “powerless” without a quorum, Tso said, he makes the effort to voice concerns to its members because he believes other venues for bringing tribal issues to federal land managers exclude “the little people on the ground.”
Council members and local BLM employees seem befuddled about why nominations haven’t been approved in the Interior Department.
BLM spokesman Zachary Stone said nominations for 2017 had cleared the local office but are still waiting for approval from U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has final authority.
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email, however, that the nominations must first be approved by the Governor’s Office and that “the state did not concur with the nominations received for the position.”
Neither Swift nor a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez could be reached for further comment.
The Taos News submitted a public records request in March to obtain copies of 2017 nominations for New Mexico’s four BLM Resource Advisory Councils. The agency denied the request, citing exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.
“A final agency decision has not been made as to the selection of the Resource Advisory Council members for 2017; therefore, we are treating these as unsuccessful applicants,” the New Mexico office of the BLM wrote in a letter dated April 4.
The Farmington office opened the 2018 nominations window earlier this year but received no applicants, Stone said. It will seek nominations again in the fall.