U.S. Department of the Interior defending drilling permits illicitly approved by Trump administration

Pueblo Pintado ruins in the Greater Chaco region.

Next week, we’ll be in federal court in Denver to defend Greater Chaco from fracking!

Centered in northwest New Mexico, the Greater Chaco region is home to the Navajo Nation and is held sacred by Tribes throughout the American Southwest.

For years now, Greater Chaco, its people, and its cultural fabric, have been under assault by oil and gas companies. Drilling and fracking has exploded across the landscape, irreparably degrading sacred Chacoan sites and other cultural resources, while frontline and Indigenous communities in the region continue to endure fracking impacts that fundamentally threaten public health, air, land, water, and climate.

Fracking and flaring in the Greater Chaco. Photo by Mike Eisenfeld.

Together with the Western Environmental Law Center, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the Sierra Club, we’ll be arguing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit that the Trump administration illegally approved more than 370 drilling permits in Greater Chaco.

Shockingly, the Biden administration intends to defend these illegal drilling permits. This comes even as President Biden’s Department of the Interior launched the “Honoring Chaco Initiative,” an effort to protect this sacred-held landscape.

We originally filed suit in 2019 after winning a landmark federal court case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. In spite of the ruling, the Trump administration rushed to approve more drilling permits, many within 10 miles of Chaco Canyon, the heart of Greater Chaco.

If you want to read our core legal arguments, check out our opening brief to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

While we were hopeful the Biden administration would deliver on its promise to prioritize environmental justice and confront the climate crisis, this hasn’t quite played out in the Greater Chaco region. Although the Honoring Chaco Initiative is a major step forward in the right direction, the administration seems to be spending most of its time and resources defending more giveaways to the oil and gas industry.

Last month, the administration re-approved the sale of more than 45,000 acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry. The Trump administration originally approved this sale.  After we filed suit to block it, the Interior Department ultimately agreed to reconsider.

Unfortunately, the only reconsideration undertaken by the Interior Department was to reconsider whether to do more paperwork to bolster the Trump administration’s illegal sale. Last week, a huge coalition admonished the Biden administration and called on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to intervene to defend Greater Chaco and its communities.

And now attorneys for President Biden’s Interior Department are slated to argue to a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals that the Trump administration was right to approve more than 370 drilling permits in the Greater Chaco region, in spite of a ruling from the same appeals court holding otherwise.

It’s incredibly disappointing, but as always, we’re prepared to fight for Greater Chaco, regardless of who’s in the White House.

After next week’s court hearing on September 29, there will be a showing of “Our Story: The Indigenous-led Fight to Protect Greater Chaco” in Denver, join us if you can!

You’ve been with us every step of the way to defend Greater Chaco from fracking, so please also take action today and tell the Biden administration to stop defending the oil and gas industry’s assault on the Greater Chaco landscape!

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About the Author

Jeremy Nichols | Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians

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