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NM Governor, Attorney General to Fight BLM on Otero Mesa

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and the state's Attorney General Patricia Madrid announced last Monday they will vigorously continue to oppose the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM's) decision to open parts of the Otero Mesa to oil/natural gas leasing. They said BLM is ignoring the state's alternatives and appeal of the decision.

Arguing that ranchers, hunters and conservationists, regardless of political party affiliation, oppose the move, Richardson said he was "very disappointed by the Bush administration's failure to respect New Mexico's position on oil/gas leasing in this precious, sensitive, and world-renowned area."

Madrid vowed to "pursue every avenue of appeal -- both administratively and in federal court" -- to make sure the state's "voice is heard by national policymakers." Both she and the governor allege that BLM is violating its own policy regarding a state's role in federal land management.

Richardson and the attorney general agreed that New Mexico will contest the BLM decision in federal court, including the issuance of the record of decision and the denial of the governor's administrative appeal.

"The state is going to fight this with everything we've got," said Richardson, the former Clinton administration energy secretary. "By failing to compromise, the federal government might have taken two steps backward, tying this issue up for years."

The New Mexico governor last March offered a compromise to the BLM that he said would have allowed some leasing while protecting groundwater, grazing areas, hunting ground and sensitive grasslands and ecosystems. BLM did not respond, prompting New Mexico to file an appeal last June.

Also last summer, a nonprofit environmental group, Campaign to Protect America's Lands (CPAL) released survey results among registered voters in New Mexico that it said showed fewer than one in four, including less than half the registered Republicans, favored the BLM plan to permit oil and gas drilling in the Otero Mesa region, which includes two counties, Otero and Sierra, in southern New Mexico (see NGI, July 12, 2004).

At the time, CPAL said it favored Richardson's alternative proposal and supported the state's appeal of the BLM action, arguing that it would threaten New Mexico's groundwater and disrupt one of the largest remaining pieces of Chihuahuan desert grasslands in the state (see NGI, June 21, March 15, 2004).

CPAL's survey was conducted by the Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc. (RPI).

Richardson last Monday said he has sent the U.S. Interior Department "the best analysis ever done by a state with respect to its land management process." He said his plan protects Otero Mesa while allowing some leasing. Nevertheless, the BLM said it would open much greater areas of Otero Mesa.

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