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Greater Chaco Coalition concerns over 10-mile mineral withdrawal
In his letter, Senator Heinrich indicated the likely re-introduction of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act, which would codify the mineral withdrawal proposed. While offering previous support of the 2019 legislation during the Trump administration, members of the coalition continue to express concern over limiting the scope of protections to the area immediately surrounding the park, hoping to see federal legislation finally address concerns long articulated by communities and protect the entirety of Chaco Culture.
President Biden issued an executive order halting all new federal oil and gas leasing, providing the entire Greater Chaco Landscape–not simply the 10 miles around Chaco Canyon–interim protection from further oil and gas activities. The president also directed the Interior Department to review federal oil and gas management to ensure consistency with protecting the climate and Secretary Haaland has committed the Department to making Tribal consultation and environmental justice a priority in federal land and resource management. Secretary Haaland saw firsthand the impacts of unfettered oil and gas extraction in the Greater Chaco region during a House Committee on Natural Resources field hearing in April 2019.
Currently, the Greater Chaco Landscape has more near-term protections than would be afforded under the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Area Act of 2019. Although the landscape currently lacks long-term security and protection from unchecked fracking, Greater Chaco is on track for more lasting and extensive safeguards under the Biden administration. While Senator Heinrich continues to champion Chaco protection, removing minerals from future leasing limited to a 10-mile buffer around Chaco Culture National Historical Park does not address many concerns long articulated by impacted communities, including health and cultural impacts, poor air quality, landscape level cultural management, lack of meaningful Tribal consultation, or unsafe road conditions and emergency response.
The Greater Chaco Coalition continues to call for federal agencies to finally fulfill their promises to protect the culture, communities, and climate of the Greater Chaco region, ensuring the health, wealth, and wellness of front-line community members. The Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs have yet to finalize the first-ever inter-agency resource management plan for the Greater Chaco area, wrought with conflict during the previous administration over concerns of systemic inequity and a failure to address issues of environmental justice.
There is widespread support for protecting cultural resources and public health across the Greater Chaco Landscape, but despite the federal pause on new oil and gas leasing, more oil and gas drilling continues to be approved. Over 91% of available public lands in the Greater Chaco region are already leased for oil and gas extraction and the Bureau of Land Management’s most recent plan proposes to add between 2,300 and 3,100 new fracking wells, highlighting the need for congressional action to permanently protect the landscape, re-centering land management planning on the needs of impacted communities and Tribal Nations to whom this region is sacred.
“Removing federal minerals from future leasing within a 10-mile buffer around Chaco Park does nothing to address the air quality crisis currently besieging the Greater Chaco region. We are not an energy sacrifice zone and we can no longer be treated as one. Our representatives must help to finally address environmental justice.”
- Mario Atencio, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment Board Member and Navajo Allotment Stakeholder
“I am grateful that this legislation is finally picking up again, as there is an urgent need for action now. But more needs to be done to protect our relatives living outside the 10-mile buffer. All the negative impacts that have been mentioned are very visible today. The sacred plants used for medicinal purposes are gone from the areas where they were gathered. Air pollution has increased in the area. Industry does not even see these things. We do not want our homeland to be completely destroyed for someone else’s profit. We, frontline people really need to keep pushing.”
- Samuel Sage, Counselor Chapter Coordinator and Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment Board Vice-President
“Even with a mineral withdrawal, the amount of land still up for destruction is high with the checkerboard of land ownership. Oil and gas activity continues to advance closer to residential areas outside the immediate Park boundaries. I have seen the degradation of our air quality firsthand, which is why the community is demanding decision makers consider the direct and cumulative impacts of fracking. This “new-age” idea to consider the direct impacts felt by locals is long overdue; the voices of concern are getting even louder and bolder. Withdrawing federal minerals directly around Chaco Park is a good start, but politicians need to remember the lives of those outside the buffer zone. The buffer is a band-aid to the problems at large, and fracking across the region needs to finally address environmental justice and the health of all people across the landscape.”
- Kendra Pinto, Twin Pines resident and member of Greater Chaco Health Impact Assessment Committee
“Although codifying a withdrawal of new mineral leasing within a 10-mile buffer of the Chaco Canyon Historic National Park is a step in the right direction, it still has no impact on existing oil and gas development or related impacts. We want meaningful protections for our cultural resources and landscapes, clean air for our people, and safe and thriving communities that are not riddled with heavy equipment and truck traffic. Centering community needs with a new resource management plan to guide existing permits and provide for just transitions from fossil fuels would serve the broader cultural landscape beyond the proposed 10-mile buffer. We need basic protections like enforceable air quality standards to restore the health of the people and the land.”
- Carol Davis, Executive Director of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment
“The people who exist outside of Chaco, who are descended from Chaco, have been disproportionately impacted for generations from multiple harms, and deserve a moratorium on all drilling and fracking within a buffer that protects their lives and cultural sites. It must also be recognized that fracking harms the carriers of cultural, spiritual, ancestral, and physical life-ways, passed on through generations. Fracking is a constant barrage of environmental violence on our lands and bodies, these intersections of gender and racial violence are real and must be taken seriously.”
- Beata Tsosie, Tewa Women United, Environmental Health and Justice Program
“Withdrawal of a 10-mile buffer may have been good enough in 2019 amid the horrors of Trump, but in 2021, the Biden and Haaland administrations have finally set the stage for meaningful reform. Any request for interim administrative relief for the Greater Chaco region must go above and beyond the status quo and work to meaningfully address long-held community concerns. We look forward to working with the delegation for comprehensive redress and relief for all of Greater Chaco.”
- Rebecca Sobel, Organizing Director for WildEarth Guardians
“We’re grateful Sen. Heinrich recognizes the tremendous values of the Greater Chaco region and the need to offer protections for impacted communities and sacred cultural values. With the climate, biodiversity, and environmental justice crises we face, true justice requires an end to oil and gas leasing and a managed decline of oil and gas exploitation on all public lands. Any mineral withdrawal should include the entire Greater Chaco landscape.”
- Kyle Tisdel, Climate & Energy Program Director at the Western Environmental Law Center
“Chaco should be considered part of greater Bears Ears in asking the question, ’how far should the limits on extraction be extended?’ The Greater Chaco region has cultural value to all the Tribes associated with that landscape. If not considered a part of the broader cultural landscape, then no extraction for 200 miles in the circumference of Chaco or more. There is just too much at stake to fall short of the protections necessary.”
- Amy Kaplan, Great Old Broads for Wilderness
“It is with both great hope for our future and concern for the environment, public health and human rights, that we call on the Biden Administration to strengthen the regulatory laws to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape and our communities, to put an end to the contamination, despoliation and desecration of the commons, and to honor the sovereign rights and guardianship role of our Indigenous communities; New Mexicans need that sovereign commitment from Senators Heinrich and Lujan.”
- Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy
“We stand with those calling for stronger protections for the entire Chaco region. The quickly worsening climate crisis demands ending new federal fossil fuel leasing nationwide and a managed decline of production. People in the Greater Chaco region have suffered runaway oil and gas pollution for decades and they should be among the first to see a just transition and relief from new drilling permits.”
- Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity
“Now is the time to address the systemic environmental and racial injustice wreaking havoc on frontline and indigenous communities across the nation. There has been a local and national outcry to preserve the remaining land in northwestern New Mexico near Chaco Canyon from endless fracking. The Biden and Haaland administration, along with the New Mexico delegation, have an opportunity to create lasting change, address the climate crisis, and protect sacred and irreplaceable cultural and environmental resources here in New Mexico. With much of the area surrounding Chaco Canyon in severe or extreme drought, we cannot further endanger precious land and water resources by handing them over to the oil and gas industry for extraction and exploitation.”
- Margaret Wadsworth, Senior Organizer, Food & Water Watch