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Santa Fe Forest Drilling Plans Threaten Clean Air, Streams, Wildlife

WildEarth Guardians Appeals Misguided Energy Development

SANTA FE, N.M. - WildEarth Guardians has challenged the Forest Service to reverse course and protect clean air, clean water, and wildlife, appealing plans for ramped up oil and gas drilling in the Santa Fe National Forest.

“Drilling shouldn’t come at the expense of New Mexico’s clean air, healthy streams, and thriving wildlife,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “Instead of looking before leaping, the Forest Service has blindly plowed ahead to rubberstamp more dirty energy development.”

On August 15, 2008, the Forest Service decided to open up more of the western Santa Fe National Forest to drilling. The decision lets the Bureau of Land Management lease more than 113,000 additional acres of the Santa Fe National Forest for oil and gas development. Leasing conveys a right to drill, so the Forest Service has by extension authorized drilling.

In an administrative appeal filed earlier this week with the Forest Service Regional Forester in Albuquerque, WildEarth Guardians has challenged the complete failure of the agency to safeguard clean air, clean water, and wildlife in the face of ramped up drilling on the Santa Fe National Forest. The appeal specifically challenges the failure:

To curb rising ozone pollution in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico. Ozone, a poisonous gas and the key ingredient of smog, soared to unhealthy levels in mid-October, violating federal health standards. Oil and gas operations are key sources of ozone forming pollution.

To protect scenic vistas in the Santa Fe National Forest. Projections show that unnatural haze is increasing in the pristine San Pedro Parks Wilderness Area. Oil and gas drilling is a key source of haze forming pollution.

To prevent and reverse stream pollution. 13 streams that could be impacted by oil and gas drilling are currently in violation of New Mexico water quality standards.

To fully protect the threatened Mexican spotted owl. Nesting habitat for the imperiled spotted owl is vulnerable to oil and gas drilling, yet the Forest Service has not committed to maintaining protection for this habitat.

The Forest Service can authorize oil and gas leasing, but must adopt stipulations to make sure air, water, wildlife, and other values remain protected. In this case, the agency failed to adopt any stipulations whatsoever to protect clean air and water. And although the Forest Service prescribed conditions to protect Mexican spotted owl habitat, the decision allows the conditions to be waived.

“The region is already struggling to meet basic clean air standards, a very serious threat to public health,” said Nichols. “Instead of taking steps to clean up air pollution, the Forest Service has decided to add to the mess. That’s just irresponsible.”

The Regional Forester is under no deadline to respond to the appeal, but will likely issue a decision by the end of the year.

The appeal can be viewed here (PDF).


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