In a press release, the agencies said the auction, originally announced in March, was being delayed " to allow for additional public engagement, including public informational meetings."
Conservation groups including the Southern Environmental Law Center have decried the planned lease auction, saying that drilling for oil and gas in the forest could damage the environment. Residents near the forest also have protested, and in recent weeks elected officials have called on the federal government to change its plans.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, in May urged the BLM to delay the auction to allow for more public input. After receiving no response from the agency, according to the congressman's office, Rogers on Thursday demanded a meeting with the agency's director.
In a release announcing the delay this afternoon, Rogers' office provided the following statement from the congressman: "It is clear the BLM failed in its first attempt to notify the public about this lease sale. The expanded use of American energy sources is an important issue for our nation’s economy, and I hope the BLM truly follows up on its commitment today to allow the public to learn more about the issue and express their views."
Officials with the Forest Service and the BLM were not immediately available for comment.
In the release announcing the delay, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell was quoted as saying, "The Forest Service works hard to ensure that stakeholders have ample input into the decisions of the agency with regards to the management of the public's national forests. Given the importance of this lease sale, we believe it is appropriate to allow for additional public informational meetings."
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