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Pueblo Pintado ruins in the Greater Chaco region.

On September 29, 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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To her fellow Guardians, she’s known as “Double Doctor Sam” (holder of two doctoral degrees in anthropology and law), avid Jazzercise instructor (she celebrated her 22nd anniversary in June), world traveler, and legal whiz.

But to the coal and oil and gas industries, she’s indefatigable and imperturbable, battering industry with suit after suit until Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda crumbles. Energized by her work to push the envelope—and the law—for the climate and our natural world, Guardians legal director Samantha Ruscavage-Barz is an indomitable force for nature.

Samantha at Tintagel Castle, set high on the rugged North Cornwall coast.

Digging deep
Born in a blighted Pennsylvania coal town, Ruscavage-Barz first fell in love with the Southwest through her professor’s slides in an “Archaeology of the Southwest” class at Penn State. She spent the next 17 years doing archaeology in the field. After earning her PhD at the University of Washington, she arrived in New Mexico to further her career.

Some of those years were exhilarating—like the two she spent painstakingly excavating several rooms in a 16th-century Pueblo site, Pueblo Blanco, in New Mexico’s Galisteo Basin. For the most part, however, Ruscavage-Barz conducted archaeological surveys for government development projects ranging from road-building to coal mining.

She was working at the New Mexico State Highway Department in the curiously titled position of “Highway Environmentalist” when fate intervened. Fittingly for this litigator-to-be, it came in the form of a lawsuit.

Ruscavage-Barz was overseeing the analyses of impacts to natural and cultural resources for a highway expansion project in southern New Mexico when a neighborhood group sued the Highway Department and Federal Highway Administration over the project, arguing that their analyses did not adequately capture the historic character of the farming communities, acequias, and houses that would be damaged for the sake of two extra lanes.

The suit didn’t faze the Highway Department, but it did rattle Ruscavage-Barz.

“The people living in the path of the highway expansion voiced concern that the road was going to completely change the character of their communities. The Highway Department just wanted to bulldoze past their concerns and dismiss them,” she said.

As she witnessed the communities’ lawyers fight for their right to exist, she also found herself impressed with the power of the law.

Lawyers, she realized, “give people and nature—who don’t normally have a voice in project planning—a seat at the table as decision-makers.”

She spoke to the lawyers and investigated the laws intended to protect the environment and cultural resources, unearthing a system of natural and cultural protections that development agencies were prepared to ignore unless they were held accountable by conservation-minded lawyers.

“Among development agencies, the focus is on consumption of natural resources and their income-generating potential,” she said. “I saw the need for voices to protect natural resources for their own sake.”

Determined to give voice to the voiceless, she quit her job at the Highway Department and enrolled at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Samantha at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.

Learning to lose
Ruscavage-Barz became WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy staff attorney in 2010. Rather than a timeline of legal triumph, her next five years at the organization would be a lesson in loss.

It wasn’t until 2015 that she won her first case, which derailed coal mining expansion schemes in Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico.

She admits that half a decade of losing was “disheartening,” but also takes pride in her—and Guardians’—persistence, likening it to the fight for equality during the Civil Rights era. Brown v. Board of Education was by no means the first case the NAACP filed against segregation in public schools, but it was the one that stuck, and the one that shattered the status quo forever—just as one of WildEarth Guardians’ coal mining cases invoking the need to consider climate finally set the stage for safeguarding our climate.

The fact that Guardians encouraged her to continue to bring cutting-edge cases over those five years, even if that often meant losing, “kept me going,” Ruscavage-Barz said.

Her persistence has paid off in the years since that first win. One by one, judges are siding with Guardians and holding the government accountable to our climate and our planet—resulting in billions of tons of coal kept in the ground, reconsideration of decisions to sell nearly four million acres of oil and gas leases in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico, and plans to drill more than 4,000 fracking wells in Greater Chaco curtailed.

No longer does Ruscavage-Barz excavate the remnants of ancient civilizations. Instead her job now involves construction—painstakingly assembling proactive protections for the Wild, communities, and the environment from the ground up, each successive case building on its predecessor until robust environmental protections and government accountability emerge from the detritus of climate denial, coal mines, and fracking pads.

WildEarth Guardians’ rock solid legal director “Double Doctor Sam” exploring Avebury Henge in southwest England.

12 years on
Ruscavage-Barz has been a Guardian for nearly a third of the organization’s existence. But even as Guardians expands, she notes, the legal strategies that have defined it over the past 33 years continue to be effective in protecting our environment and holding government accountable.

“Guardians’ legal work has always been prudent, but pioneering,” she said. “We don’t bring litigation without thinking it through. But at the same time, we don’t hesitate to go where no one has gone before.”

As threats to our wild places, wildlife, and climate grow ever more perilous, and as courts increasingly heed Guardians’ calls for change, one thing remains plain: we’re lucky to have Ruscavage-Barz in our corner.

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On November 15, 2021, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the “Honoring Chaco Initiative,” a first-of-its-kind collaboration among the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Affairs to protect the Greater Chaco landscape across New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. It was a landmark step for a beleaguered landscape that, despite its profound sacredness to the Tribes who live there, has been drilled and fracked nearly into oblivion for decades.

Celebrating the announcement alongside a diverse coalition of more than 40 groups was WildEarth Guardians Organizing Director Rebecca Sobel, who has been working to protect Greater Chaco since 2014. Spurred by this triumph, Sobel has now taken the reins of Guardians’ first-ever Organizing Program.

“Guardians has been working through administrative and legal channels to win victories for wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and climate—and recognizes that to cement our successes, we need social change and people power supporting those victories,” Sobel said. “Guardians wins on a big scale in the courtroom; organizing takes those wins to communities and figures out how to make lasting change.”

The Organizing Program team currently consists of Sobel and two other organizers: Soni Grant, based in the Four Corners area who works primarily on cultural landscape protection and the Greater Chaco campaign, and Alma “Rosie” Sanchez in Colorado, focusing on coexistence with wolves, living rivers, clean air, and climate justice. Organizers attend and manage events as well as engage in direct action and creative communication tactics like delivering petitions and letters to key decision makers in media-worthy events that amplify calls for action.

Though still in its infancy, the Organizing Program’s boots-on-the-ground approach is already meeting with success not only in Chaco but also in Colorado, where Guardians is targeting metropolitan Denver’s Suncor oil refinery. The refinery, whose uncontrolled pollution disproportionately affects people of color and families with low incomes, has long operated illegally and in defiance of clean air safeguards. Spotlighting Suncor’s dirty dealings, Guardians created a public process that led to air-permit hearings and “a groundswell of calls not only to clean up, but also to shut down the refinery,” Sobel said.

WildEarth Guardians’ Rebecca Sobel at the #FrackOffChaco Awareness Run.

The Birth of an Organizer

The natural choice for Guardians’ Organizing Director—she first floated the idea for the Organizing Program 13 years ago—Sobel came to social activism at an early age. Her thirst for social justice stems from her years commuting to a wealthy, private Jewish school while living in Center City Philadelphia.

“Riding the public bus through neighborhoods and with people who didn’t have the same privileges I was afforded, I learned early on that pursuing social justice was a luxury that you could afford only if your basic needs were met,” she said.

She recalled organizing a “really makeshift” rally in the cafeteria of her high school to protest a high-profile donation that would change the school’s name, clashing with the principles on which the school was founded. She called reporters, the school was shamed, and an organizer was born.

“I tell that story because that’s organizing, even if I didn’t know it then. Organizing defines power as the ability to get a decision maker to do what you want, even when they don’t want to,” Sobel said.

She fled the East Coast for the West at the first opportunity, armed with a bachelor’s degree in globalization and social justice, a master’s in international relations and human rights, and a desire to change the world—but no idea where to start. She applied to a position at Greenpeace and, for her first campaign at the organization, found herself working alongside famed environmentalist Bill McKibben on the largest climate change demonstration in U.S. history. And with that, her career path suddenly came into focus.

“When I applied for that first job with Greenpeace, I didn’t know that ‘organizer’ was a job,” Sobel said. “When you want to change the world, they tell you to become a lawyer. So when I found out that you could get paid to [organize] for good causes, I was amazed.”

She joined Guardians in 2007 to lead its Outstanding Natural Resource Waters campaign, an effort to protect the quality of New Mexico’s headwaters in perpetuity. After winning the campaign, she left to be executive director of the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy in Santa Fe and then launched her own consulting business called “Action Oriented,” where for eight years she “worked for or with nearly every environmental nonprofit in New Mexico,” she said.

In true full-circle fashion, Guardians’ Chaco campaign was one of her consulting contracts. After some persuasion by Jeremy Nichols, Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director, she joined Guardians again to pursue climate justice in Chaco full-time. She has been a Guardian ever since.

Rebecca leaves Tri-State Energy headquarters after educating Tri-State on the costs of fossil fuels with Guardians’ Jeremy Nichols.

Organizing the Future

Sobel’s aptitude as Organizing Director goes beyond her longstanding engagement with Guardians and its campaigns. Working on the ground and behind the scenes, she intuitively grasps that bringing people together is not about the organizer, but about the movement.

“A good organizer isn’t a certain personality type. It’s somebody who inspires action, who helps create and support leadership in others,” she said. “And it’s [somebody who] has the humility to step aside when needed.”

“Good organizers,” she said, “try to organize themselves out of a job.”

For now, though, Sobel’s job at Guardians is still cut out for her. She envisions a network of Guardians organizers across the West, with one in every Guardians office. In the interim, she and her team are continuing to pursue justice in Greater Chaco. This past April, in response to appeals from Guardians and others, the Biden administration agreed to review fracking on nearly 45,000 square miles of the region and paused all oil and gas extraction activities on the leases, pending the review.

“The Chaco campaign is an awesome testament to organizing,” Sobel said. “When you’re in isolation, it’s hard to feel like one person can make a difference. Organizers build movements so it’s not just one person—it’s hundreds or thousands of people coming together to do the thing.”

Clearly, what Sobel and the organizing team have already accomplished together is proof of that power.

Please consider supporting the work of Rebecca and our entire organizing team with a gift today.

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The Biden administration is pulling out all the stops for more drilling and fracking in the Greater Chaco region.

In spite of promises to protect the Greater Chaco region, the Biden administration continues to rubber-stamp more drilling and more fracking in this beleaguered landscape, perpetuating more environmental injustice and calling into question whether the U.S. Department of the Interior is committed to doing anything but the oil and gas industry’s bidding.

Last fall, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the launch of the “Honoring Chaco Initiative,” a promising move by the Biden administration to follow through on pledges to protect the Greater Chaco region from an oil and gas industry onslaught.

The Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico is culturally significant and important for the spirituality, survival, and cultural health of numerous Tribes, who hold the landscape sacred. Chaco Canyon and Chaco Culture National Historic Park are at the heart of Greater Chaco.

For years now, the land, its people, and its cultural fabric have been under assault by oil and gas companies. Fracking has exploded across the landscape, putting communities at risk, despoiling sacred landmarks, and irreparably degrading Chacoan ruins and other culturally significant sites.

While we had high hopes that the Biden administration and Secretary Haaland would live up to their commitments and uphold their promises, sadly the oil and gas industry still seems to come first in Greater Chaco.  As recent reports have exposed, the Interior Department’s U.S. Bureau of Land Management continues to approve massive drilling and fracking operations, extensive road and pipeline construction, and more oil and gas processing facilities.

But it’s the Bureau of Land Management’s latest plans that comes as a major punch in the gut for Greater Chaco.  

Earlier this month, the agency announced a proposal to reapprove nearly 45,000 acres–that’s 70 square miles–of federal oil and gas leases located only 15 miles east of Chaco Culture National Historical Park and in an area with many Navajo communities and residences.

Under a Bureau of Land Management proposal, the 45,000 acres of oil and gas leases above (in red) would be “re-approved.”

Oil and gas leasing is bad, it locks in the right for oil and gas companies to drill and frack, meaning it essentially guarantees more air and water pollution, more climate emissions, and more threats to public health and safety.  However, the context under which the Bureau of Land Management has proposed to approve these particular leases makes it absolutely reprehensible.

Here, these leases were originally approved under the Trump administration.  At the time, industry cronies in the Interior Department cut every corner to fast track more oil and gas leasing in response to company demands.  In the Greater Chaco region, the Bureau of Land Management rushed to lease, flouting the law, science, community and Tribal concerns, and any notion of environmental justice.

In response, we sued together with Diné Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Sierra Club, and Western Environmental Law Center.  In spite of our lawsuit, the Bureau of Land Management proceeded to approve more than 100 new permits authorizing big oil giant EOG Resources–formerly Enron–to drill and frack the leases.

In response, we moved to block EOG’s drilling plans, filing a motion for a preliminary injunction in federal court last January.  Thankfully, the Biden administration realized the injustice of defending the Trump administration’s lawless leasing and shortly after, we reached a settlement agreement with the Bureau of Land Management.  As part of the settlement, the agency agreed to reconsider its leasing and to pause drilling and fracking on the illegal leases in the meantime.

Unfortunately, it appears the Bureau of Land Management actually had no objective plan for reconsideration.

In its announcement this month, the agency released four environmental assessments.  All four state that the Bureau of Land Management’s “proposed action” is to reapprove all past leasing.  Worse, all four assessments rely on the same lawless logic of the Trump administration that oil and gas leasing poses no significant impacts to the environment.

And if that wasn’t enough, all four assessments plainly state that in reapproving the leases, more oil and gas extraction in the region will disproportionately impact Navajo residents and communities with air and water pollution and infrastructure degradation.  In other words, a complete environmental injustice.

Although we hope the Bureau of Land Management changes course, in the meantime, we’re gearing up for another fight.  We certainly want to trust the Biden administration and Secretary Haaland to do the right thing for the Greater Chaco region, but if the Honoring Chaco Initiative is all talk, then we’ll have no choice but to go court to defend this irreplaceable landscape.

Stay tuned for more! In the meantime, speak out and keep the pressure on the Biden administration.

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For too long, the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico, southwest Colorado, southeast Utah, and northeast Arizona has been under siege by fracking. Thankfully we have a chance to turn the tide for this sacred landscape.

Take action by May 6, 2022 to ensure the Biden administration follows through with their promise to protect Greater Chaco!

With Chaco Culture National Historical Park at its center, Greater Chaco is the cultural heart of the American Southwest. Navajo communities call the region home, the Pueblo Tribes of New Mexico hold deep ancestral ties to the landscape, and the area is spiritually significant for countless other Tribes and Indigenous Peoples.

Unfortunately, the land, its people, and the cultural fabric of Greater Chaco have been under assault by the oil and gas industry. Fracking has exploded across the landscape, putting communities at risk, despoiling sacred landmarks, and irreparably degrading Chacoan ruins and other culturally significant sites.

We can change this, but we need your help. Weigh in by May 6 to ensure the Biden administration honors the Greater Chaco region and confronts the oil and gas industry.

At the end of last year, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland kicked off an Honoring Chaco Initiative aimed at protecting the Greater Chaco landscape. As the first order of business, she announced plans to ban fracking within 10 miles of Chaco Canyon.

This is good, but we need to ensure Secretary Haaland’s Honoring Chaco Initiative goes ALL THE WAY.

Landscape-level protection for Greater Chaco is the only solution for protecting Navajo communities, the cultural integrity of the entire landscape, clean air and water, and more.

Tell Secretary Haaland that ALL the Greater Chaco landscape needs to be protected, including the 10 miles around Chaco Canyon. Speak out, send your letter today.

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Fracking in the Greater Chaco landscape of northwest New Mexico. Photo by Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance.

There’s no denying it. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plans to “kick start the hydrogen fuel industry” is nothing short of a scheme to subsidize oil and gas companies and keep the state dangerously reliant on fossil fuels.

“Dirtier Than Coal”

In her proposed “Hydrogen Hub Act,” which was unveiled last month, the governor claims that producing hydrogen would represent a climate and clean energy “solution.” Unfortunately, the only thing hydrogen stands to fuel is the climate crisis.

For one, hydrogen is currently produced using methane gas.  In other words, the “gas” in oil and gas. Converting methane to hydrogen not only promotes more oil and gas extraction (i.e., fracking), but in doing so creates carbon dioxide as methane molecules are split into carbon and hydrogen. To boot, converting methane to hydrogen requires enormous amounts of energy, energy that today mainly comes from the burning of fossil fuels.

It’s a filthy process that scientists have found is dirtier than coal. Worse, by promoting more fracking, this method of manufacturing hydrogen stands to perpetuate environmental injustice, air and water pollution, and damage to public lands and sacred landscapes in New Mexico.

It’s no wonder that opposition to the governor has been resounding.

In comments spearheaded by the Western Environmental Law Center and joined by WildEarth Guardians and dozens more health, Indigenous, climate, and community organizations, the message was clear: the governor’s “Hydrogen Hub Act” is “fatally flawed.”

In statements offered last week, Tribal, community, and climate groups condemned the governor’s push for hydrogen as an unjust scheme to prop up the oil and gas industry. The groups specifically highlighted that the state’s move to promote hydrogen threatens the sacred Greater Chaco landscape, a region the Biden administration has sworn to protect.

“The proposed hydrogen legislation is a way to crutch the fossil fuel economy when Indigenous Pueblos have advocated to end fossil fuel extraction in the Greater Chaco landscape. Hydrogen is a continuum of the fossil fuel economy that our communities don’t want.”

– Pueblo Action Alliance

“Green” in Name Only

While it’s true that hydrogen can be produced using water (often referred to as “green hydrogen”), the notion that New Mexico would literally burn away its dwindling water supply is outright insane.

Most importantly, the amount of energy required to convert water to hydrogen is astronomical, requiring far more energy to create than even fossil fuels. Adding injury to insult, energy today is still largely fossil fuel-derived, meaning the energy required to turn water into hydrogen would inevitably fuel massive amounts of coal, oil, and gas consumption, leading to more climate pollution.

Boosters of hydrogen, like Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, claim this energy problem can be solved in one of two ways:  1) hydrogen can be created using renewable energy and 2) carbon emissions from fossil fuel energy production can be captured and stored underground.

On the latter, carbon capture and sequestration is still a failed fantasy and at best has yet to achieve any level of commercial viability. Critically, however, the energy required to capture carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and permanently store them underground is itself astronomical. More energy means more fossil fuel burning, perpetuating the cycle of climate destruction.

New Mexico’s governor has argued that renewable energy could simply be used to meet all the energy needs of creating hydrogen, whether it’s powering direct production of the gas and/or energizing carbon capture and storage operations.

Of course, this is where the concept of hydrogen production veers from lunacy to an outright assault on the climate.

Climate Killer

That’s because calls for renewable energy to power the creation of hydrogen are essentially calls to slow, if not halt, our world’s transition away from burning fossil fuels for electricity. Essentially, every bit of renewable energy used to create hydrogen is a bit of renewable energy that is unable to replace coal, oil, and gas-fired power generation.

This where the insidiousness of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s push for hydrogen really comes into focus. Her plan wouldn’t just promote more fracking, it would slow the New Mexico’s efforts to move away from coal and gas-fired power, effectively stalling the build-out of clean renewable energy to replace dirty fossil fuels.

This is shocking, but it’s all the more shocking coming from a governor who proclaims herself to be a leader in confronting the climate crisis.

As scientist warn that an expeditious move away from coal, oil, and gas consumption and production is needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, New Mexico can’t afford to slow down a transition from fossil fuels.

The prospect of New Mexico building out a hydrogen industry is about as anti-climate as you can get.  By pushing her “Hydrogen Hub Act,” Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham isn’t just promoting a false climate solution, she’s promoting a climate killer.

Take Action

With the New Mexico Legislature set to begin in early 2022, it’s more critical now than ever to fight back against the “Hydrogen Hub Act” and ensure the governor backs down from the idea that hydrogen is a climate solution. If the governor and Legislature are serious about climate action, then they need to get serious about transitioning the state away from fossil fuels and to 100% renewable energy ASAP.

You can help deliver this message, send an e-mail today to hydrogen.feedback@state.nm.us, tell the governor to abandon her “Hydrogen Hub Act.”  Tell her to get behind making New Mexico the first state to commit to a future 100% powered by renewable energy and 100% free of fracking and energy injustice.

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After years of dogged advocacy and defense, the Greater Chaco region is finally one big step closer to permanent protection!

On November 15, President Biden and Department of the Interior Secretary Haaland announced plans to ban fracking within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park and committed to working with Tribes and stakeholders to forever protect this sacred landscape.

A thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico was the ceremonial and economic center of the Chaco Cultural Landscape, an area encompassing more than 75,000 square miles of the Southwest in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah and sacred to Indigenous Peoples. Today, Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, and home to Diné (Navajo) peoples.

For decades, the federal government has quite literally treated the Greater Chaco Landscape like a sacrifice zone. Fueled by U.S. Bureau of Land Management indifference, companies have drilled, fracked, built pipelines, and put in place infrastructure that has inched closer to Chaco Canyon and Navajo communities.

As a member of the Greater Chaco Coalition, WildEarth Guardians has worked closely with Tribal allies, other non-governmental organizations, and dedicated activists from around the world to fight back against the oil and gas industry’s exploitation and defend Greater Chaco.

With Secretary Haaland and President Biden taking action, the Greater Chaco Landscape is now one giant step closer to full protection. While a ban on fracking within 10 miles of Chaco Canyon is huge, ultimately, we need landscape-level safeguards to protect and restore the cultural integrity of all Greater Chaco and its communities.

The fight’s not over. The oil and gas industry is still pushing to drill and frack more across the Greater Chaco landscape. With slight relief and a promise for a new path forward for landscape management, join us in marking this latest victory as a major milestone.

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Representative Deb Haaland’s nomination by President Biden to lead the Interior Department represents an historic opportunity to drive the systemic change the natural world, our climate, and our country so desperately need.

If confirmed, Haaland—an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo—would be the first Indigenous person to run any Cabinet-level department in the history of the United States.

The full Senate vote to confirm Representative Haaland will be Monday, March 15, so we’re asking you to contact both of your senators today.

Unfortunately, Biden’s most historic Cabinet nomination could also be his most imperiled. That’s because senators in the back pocket of the dirty fossil fuel industry simply don’t want a climate justice activist and protector of public lands at the reins of the Interior Department.  Which is why we’re asking you—imploring you—to speak out on behalf of Haaland’s confirmation today.

Representative Haaland is a steadfast champion of bold climate action, environmental justice, Tribal rights, and protection of public lands and endangered wildlife.

In Congress, Haaland has been at the forefront of issues central to the climate and nature crises that the Interior Department must address. The Interior Department must stop the plundering of public lands, protect endangered species, implement policies that nurture an ethic of wildlife coexistence, protect 30% of all lands by 2030, and expand and deepen protection of national parks, monuments, and cultural sites.

Representative Haaland is exactly the visionary leader America needs to guide the Interior Department toward justice, equity, conservation, and environmental protection at this pivotal point in history. Her bold vision to address the nature and climate crises is precisely why some senators—and the resource exploiters bankrolling their election campaigns—adamantly oppose her leading the Interior Department.

They’re saying she’s too radical. But Haaland is merely committed to the bold and just path of transitioning our nation off our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.

Confirmation of Representative Haaland to be Interior Secretary would be a monumental step forward for Indigenous rights, climate action, environmental justice, and protection of public lands and threatened wildlife. In these times we need bold leadership, so please join me and urge your senators to support and confirm Representative Haaland to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior.

[BREAKING: Speak out today to defend Greater Chaco from fracking! Tell the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs NO MORE BROKEN PROMISES!]
[And PLEASE, support COVID-19 relief efforts in the Far Eastern Chapters of the Navajo Nation, click here to donate >>]

The Trump Administration’s push to open up public lands for fracking has hit a callous new low in the Greater Chaco region as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management barrels ahead to approve more than 3,000 new oil and gas wells even as impacted Indigenous communities bear the brunt of a major COVID-19 outbreak.

Greater Chaco

The Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico is the sacred heart of the American Southwest. It’s home to Chaco Canyon and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Over a thousand years ago, it was the realm of the Chacoan people, the ancestral Puebloans who constructed kivas and dwellings across the landscape.

Today, Pueblo people still maintain a living and spiritual connection to the landscape and it sustains Navajo and New Mexico communities.

While Chaco Canyon is at the core of the Greater Chaco landscape, the “Chaco World” extended far beyond, even into northeast Arizona, southwest Colorado, and southeast Utah.

This map is only an illustration of the expansive Greater Chaco region. The true extent of the Chaco World can never be fully known. Map courtesy of Archaeology Southwest.

Sacred Lands Under Siege by Fracking

For years now, Greater Chaco has been under attack by the oil and gas industry.

With the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, companies have tapped previously unreachable geologic formations using destructive industrial development. Much of this development has occurred under the watch of the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees more than two million acres of public lands and minerals in the region.

Since 2013, the Bureau of Land Management has permitted more than five hundred fracking wells in Greater Chaco. With more than 90% of all lands in the region leased to the oil and gas industry for drilling, the threat looms large.

Click here to see a map of existing oil and gas wells in the Greater Chaco >>

Fracking in the Greater Chaco region. Photo by Mike Eisenfeld.

This drilling has utterly transformed and degraded the landscape, fueling more air pollution, more safety concerns, more truck traffic, and more industrial development where there previously was none.

It’s also put the health and welfare of adjacent Navajo communities more at risk than ever.

Frack Off Chaco

Fortunately, the Bureau of Land Management’s relentless push to drill and frack in Greater Chaco has galvanized a movement.

To begin with, the Frack Off Greater Chaco Coalition emerged, uniting Indigenous community leaders, Native groups, nonprofits, and public lands and water protectors around the call to stop fracking in the region.

As part of this coalition, we joined with Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, NRDC, and the Western Environmental Law Center to win an unprecedented legal challenge to fracking in Greater Chaco.

Most recently, the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of GovernorsNational Congress of American Indians, 15 Navajo Chapter Houses, the New Mexico Legislature, the New Mexico State Land Office, and over 500,000 people have called on the agency  to stop fracking Greater Chaco.

Federal legislation was also introduced by New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation to increase protections. Called the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, the bill would take the first steps toward protecting this landscape by making the 10 mile area around Chaco Canyon off limits to drilling.

“It’s important that we protect Chaco Canyon, both because it is a sacred place that should be valued the same way we value other sacred places, but also because public lands must be protected.”

– New Mexico U.S. Representative, Deb Haaland

At one point, even the Bureau of Land Management seemed to be coming around.

In 2013, the agency announced it needed to update a 2003 management plan for the Farmington Field Office, which encompasses most of the Greater Chaco region. Promising to be accountable to Tribes and the public, the Bureau of Land Management, together with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, committed to strengthening safeguards to protect cultural values and health.

From October 2016 to February 2017, the agencies held 10 public meetings and received thousands of comments to guide the development of the new plan.

In response, the agencies released a “scoping report,” promising the new plan would address climate change, water and soil resources, environmental justice, the “Chaco Cultural Landscape,” public health and safety, Tribal interests, truck traffic and road conditions, wildlife, and other issues impacted by fracking.

Broken Promises

Sadly, the agencies have now reneged on their promises.

In March, the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs released their draft management plan. Sadly, the plan opens the door for more fracking and stands to leave the cultural integrity and health of the Greater Chaco region more vulnerable than ever.

Under the various alternatives, the agencies project between 2,345 and 3,101 new oil and gas wells in the Farmington Field Office.

More oil and gas wells portend more health threats to Navajo and New Mexican communities in the Greater Chaco region.

While the agencies’ “preferred alternative” claims that “human health and the environment” are among chief objectives, this plan still proposes 3,068-3,085 new wells.

The plan would also make nearly a million acres available for sale to the oil and gas industry for more extraction. Many of these lands are in or near Navajo communities.

More Fracking in the Midst of a Health Crisis

The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed plan would sacrifice the Greater Chaco region’s cultural integrity, endanger communities, and jeopardize clean air, water, and the climate.

What’s worse is that the agency is plowing ahead to approve more fracking even as Indigenous communities are struggling with an outbreak of COVID-19.

In fact, the Navajo Nation is experiencing the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in the United States and reports indicate Pueblo communities in New Mexico are also being hit hard.

Citing the burden of managing the COVID-19 health crisis within Tribal communities, there has been a near-unanimous call for the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs to extend the public comment period for its proposed plan. Tribal officials, Congressional leaders, state and local officials, and the general public have all spoken out.

In response, the agencies rejected the requests and instead scheduled a series of “virtual” public meetings, a move that has been widely condemned.

Pointing to a lack of adequate internet access within Tribal communities and the ongoing strain of the coronavirus pandemic, leaders, like U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland and Raul Grijalva, have ripped the agencies over their lack of compassion and sensitivity.

Not surprisingly, as the virtual meetings have unfolded, the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs have faced heated criticism. Tribal leaders, local officials, and members of the public have overwhelmingly delivered the message that the agency’s so-called public engagement is shameful, insulting, and racist.

A Call to Action

In the meantime, we’re stepping up the resistance more than ever.

Earlier this month, we filed a new lawsuit in federal court targeting the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of hundreds of new fracking wells.

And in the past few weeks, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, NRDC, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and many other organizations have reached out to millions of people calling on them to speak out and weigh in.

The big news is that on May 27, 2020, the Frack Off Greater Chaco Coalition will hold a People’s Hearing to Defend Greater Chaco, where it’s intended to provide a forum for all people to weigh in and interact.

While the hearing will be virtual and held over Zoom, the Coalition intends to read any and all comments submitted by people, to play videos or audio submitted, and to overall give people a forum to actually speak out.

Unlike the Bureau of Land Management’s virtual public meetings, there will be no time limits for public comment, nobody’s video turned off, and certainly no dead silence or elevator music.

Watch the video below to learn more about the People’s Hearing to Defend Greater Chaco!

We’re not going to back down until we’ve secured the protections the Greater Chaco region needs and deserves.

That means that we won’t relent in defending Greater Chaco until the Bureau of Land Management has agreed to stop selling public lands for fracking, has agreed to landscape-level cultural protections, and has agreed to wind down and ultimately phase out fracking entirely in the region.

As we’ve said, we’re not going to take it anymore

The Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico is under siege by fracking. Despite calls from Tribal leaders, communities, and elected officials, the Trump administration is barreling ahead with plans to allow up to 3,000 new fracking wells in the region, which will bring more air pollution and more water contamination to this culturally integral landscape. Even worse, these plans come amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is hitting northwest New Mexico and the Navajo Nation particularly hard. This is a critical time for this critical issue, so please join us in pushing back, and stepping it up, to defend Greater Chaco.

Tweet to #ProtectChaco! We’ve assembled six ready-to-go tweets, complete with images and a link to the action alert. All you have to do is “grab-n-go” to help raise awareness and make a big difference in the defense of the Greater Chaco region. Thank you!

Tweet #1

The Bureau of Land Management’s new plan for up to 3,000 additional #fracking wells in the Greater Chaco region fails to provide any assessment of the current impacts of fracking to human health and communities in the region. Act now to #ProtectChaco: https://guardiansaction.org/GreaterChaco

Tweet #2

Ignoring previous promises to protect communities and the culture of the Greater Chaco region from #fracking, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management wants to open the door for more than 3,000 new oil and gas wells in the region. Act now to #ProtectChaco: https://guardiansaction.org/GreaterChaco


Tweet #3

It takes over three million gallons of water to frack a single oil and gas well in the Greater Chaco region. For every barrel of oil, 4-12 times as much toxic, radioactive waste is generated. Submit your comments to #ProtectChaco from more #fracking: https://guardiansaction.org/GreaterChaco


Tweet #4

A Trump administration plan for managing #publiclands and minerals in northwestern New Mexico’s Greater Chaco region would sacrifice cultural integrity, endanger communities, and jeopardize #cleanair, water, and the #climate. Act now to #ProtectChaco: https://guardiansaction.org/GreaterChaco


Tweet #5

The Greater Chaco region is home to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and ancestral pueblo kivas and dwellings. Sadly, the region has been under siege by #fracking. We have to fight back to #ProtectChaco: https://guardiansaction.org/GreaterChaco


Tweet #6

Despite calls from Tribal leaders, communities, and elected officials, the Trump administration is barreling ahead with plans to allow even more #fracking, more air pollution and more water contamination in Greater Chaco region. Speak up to #ProtectChaco: https://guardiansaction.org/GreaterChaco