Legislation Big Step Forward, But More Needed to Protect Communities and Safeguard Sacred Landscape

Today, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland of New Mexico, with the support of State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, introduced the “Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act,” in the U.S. Senate and House, which would create a Chaco Protection Zone around Chaco Canyon.

The legislation would withdraw the oil, gas, coal and other minerals from federal public land within an approximate 10-mile buffer zone around the Park. Importantly, the legislation would allow for the termination of non-producing federal leases within the Protection Zone and prohibit the Secretary of Interior from extending them.

The legislation also acknowledges the broader Chaco cultural landscape across New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah, and recognizes the need for “additional studies…to address health, safety and environmental impacts to communities.”

From my perspective, this legislation is worthy of some major applause.

We are grateful to Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Lujan and Haaland for introducing a Greater Chaco bill that better protects Indigenous communities, sacred lands and the climate. The intersection of climate justice and sacred landscapes calls for bold leadership and that’s what all Americans are getting in this bill.

I want to commend both Senators and Representatives for listening to community concerns over the last year and responding by better protecting Navajo communities and the climate from the threat of fossil fuel extraction. When this bill becomes law it will provide a beachhead of protections for the Greater Chaco region that, we hope, will be the beginning of a regional transitions to more equitable economies.

We still have considerable work to do enact this legislation and defend communities and the climate from the reckless actions of the Trump Administration and yet today we pause to acknowledge the hard work that Senators Udall and Heinrich have engaged in.

We live in increasingly complex and challenging times and we believe our solutions must reflect that complexity. By recognizing the intersectionality of climate justice, community resilience and the need for energy and economic transition in the Greater Chaco region this bill creates a framework to protect the health and well-being of this sacred region and its peoples.

Thank you to Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Haaland and Luján.

John Horning

About the Author

John Horning | Executive Director, WildEarth Guardians

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