Earthjustice Sues BLM over Illegal Meetings with Industry Representatives in New Mexico
Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in New Mexico federal court today challenging a secret meeting of an advisory committee to the Bureau of Land Management made up of gas and oil industry representatives scheduled for January 8, 2004. The advisory committee was explicitly asked to provide advice to the BLM by the New Mexico State Director. The committee has not made these meetings open to public participation as required by Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
Earthjustice will ask for a temporary restraining order to halt this meeting until the makeup of the advisory committee can be reconstituted in a more democratic fashion and the meeting is open to full public participation. The case was filed on behalf of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, the Southwest Environmental Center, and REP-America (Republicans for Environmental Protection) New Mexico Chapter.
The lawsuit claims the New Mexico BLM field office is in violation of FACA, a federal law that requires that membership of federal advisory committees be balanced and that meetings be open to the public.
"This meeting between government officials and industry representatives is illegal under federal law," said Mike Harris, an attorney for Earthjustice. "The public was not given notice of these meetings and they appear to be closed to the public."
Conservation groups are concerned that the scheduled meeting is taking place to provide recommendations to BLM on the implementation of natural gas development at Otero Mesa under a Resource Management Plan amendment that is still at least 60-days from becoming final.
"This meeting represents a concerted, and illegal, effort to cut the public out of the process," said Harris. "Any family that likes to hike has the same ownership rights to public lands in the New Mexico as special interests who seek to profit from its exploitation. In America, we make decisions about public lands through a democratic process, not behind closed doors in private meetings between government and industry."
In November 2003 meeting, Linda Rundell, BLM State Director asked that that New Mexico Resource Advisory Council take on the responsibility of holding "public" meetings to advise BLM on its implementation under the amended RMP. To date, none of these meetings have been noticed in the federal register and there is no other indication that these meetings are open to public participation.
"Implementing the yet to be approved RMP amendment must be done among a balanced group of representatives, at a public forum, and in compliance with federal law," said Harris.