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Greater Chaco Coalition demands more than piecemeal protection in response to 10-mile buffer
COUNSELOR, NM—Despite applauding President Joe Biden and Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s announcement in November to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape through a still-undefined “Honoring Chaco” process, members of the Greater Chaco Coalition are tempering their enthusiasm for the Department of Interior’s notice today of a 90-day public comment process surrounding the 20 year administrative withdrawal of federal minerals from future oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile buffer around Chaco Culture National Park, as the administration has reneged on its promise to end federal fossil fuel leasing, and as Bureau of Land Management moves to finalize its massive fracking plan for the region and broader landscape protection efforts have yet to begin.
Coalition members are calling the limited administrative withdrawal insufficient as it does not begin to address concerns long articulated by impacted communities and fails to initiate a promised new process of collaboration for Greater Chaco Landscape management, nor does it make good on the pledge to finally address the cumulative cultural, climate, and community impacts of fracking in the region.
There is widespread support for protecting ending fracking across the Greater Chaco Landscape, but the Department of the Interior continues to rubberstamp more oil and gas drilling within and outside the proposed 10-mile buffer, approving over 500 new wells since the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs admitted it needed a new resource management plan for the area. Wrought with controversy, the Bureau of Land Management’s most recent plan proposes to add between 2,300 and 3,100 new fracking wells, underscoring the need for a meaningful “Honoring Greater Chaco” process to works towards ameliorating a legacy of broken promises and offer alternatives that finally advance justice for the region.
For over a century, the federal government has quite literally treated the Greater Chaco Landscape like a national energy sacrifice zone. The region has been victim to large-scale resource exploitation, and a colonial history of Navajo displacement and land dispossession which has carved the landscape into a complex checkerboard of federal, state, private, and Navajo allotment land. Today, more than 91% of available lands in the Greater Chaco area of northwestern New Mexico are already leased for oil and gas, and New Mexico is now the second biggest oil producer in the United States, responsible for nearly half of all federal extractive emissions. Adding insult to injury, efforts to create a “Hydrogen Hub” in the region threaten to further exacerbate fracking impacts.
The Greater Chaco Coalition continues to call on federal and state agencies to stop papering over problems in the region, and to finally fulfill promises to address the cumulative impacts of fracking, and implement effective laws and regulations to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape and the people who live there.
“The Bureau of Land Management is not abiding by President Biden’s Executive Order to protect the Greater Chaco landscape through investigating the cultural impacts of oil and gas development on the land, water, air and the sacred sites and ancestral landscape home to Diné people of the Counselor, Ojo Encino, Torreon-Star Lake and Pueblo Pintado Chapters. Federal and state governmental leaders must ensure that the President’s Executive Order is fulfilled and the people who reside in the Greater Chaco landscape are protected from oil and gas developmental impacts.” – Daniel Tso, Navajo Nation Council Delegate for Counselor, Ojo Encino, Torreon-Star Lake and Pueblo Pintado Chapters
“Protecting lands within an arbitrary buffer zone cannot be the end of the Biden Administration’s promise to protect the Greater Chaco landscape. Allotment holders are in a direct trust relationship with the federal government. This relationship is not just a fiduciary one, but according to the U.S. Supreme Court case Seminole Nation v. U.S. (1942) entails ‘…moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust’. Allottees are beneficiaries of this sacred federal trust, and our public health concerns are not being heard. New oil and gas wells are still being approved on sacred Navajo land. Oil and Gas operators, and their federal agency facilitators, have long dumped their toxic waste in Navajo Communities without fully communicating the human health impacts of the approved and unapproved toxic releases and spills. This environmental racism must end, and the Chaco withdrawal process must include local grassroots environmental justice considerations.” – Corn Howland, Diné Allottees Against Oil Exploitation
“The efforts by the Department of the Interior are a step in the right direction in upholding tribal sovereignty and for protection of the landscape that is centered at the intersection of social, cultural and ecological significance. Free, Prior, and Informed Consent will be a vital tool throughout the “Honoring Greater Chaco” process and will help bridge the efforts between the Interior Department and surrounding Indigenous communities. The fight for the Greater Chaco region is a fight for a healthier future for our children, which cannot be ignored, and concrete action must be taken now. The potential 10-mile mineral withdrawal around Chaco National Park boundaries and the 90-day comment period are a step forward, but we must continue to hold decision makers accountable to the injustice that has historically taken place in this region.” – Pueblo Action Alliance
“The recent push to Protect the Greater Chaco Landscape, not just a 10-mile buffer zone, was championed by frontline indigenous environmental justice communities. The ‘Honoring Chaco’ withdrawal process must have an environmental justice focus. The Department of Interior promised a “whole of government” approach – this approach should not just be a check-the-box exercise of tribal consultation, but a process that adheres to the requirements of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent related to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.The input of indigenous peoples’ related to our public health issues must be core to the withdrawal process and greater landscape protections. Any new process must be more than a dog and pony show.” – Carol Davis, Executive Director of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (CARE)
“The concept of Honoring Greater Chaco requires the Department of the Interior to fulfill long unfulfilled promises to gather and evaluate information, and to protect resources and communities with the recognition that oil and gas should no longer be the dominant priority in a region already overwhelmed by energy development. Meaningful consultation with impacted communities has not occurred on this process to date – DOI has the responsibility to address significant impacts in the Area of Potential Effect which is over 4 million acres in northwestern New Mexico.” – Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance Energy and Climate Program Manager
“The disconnect between climate rhetoric and meaningful action is nowhere more evident than in Greater Chaco. After turning its back on the promise to end federal oil and gas leasing, the administration is now reneging on efforts to protect the entire Greater Chaco landscape. To truly honor Chaco and advance climate justice, we need much more than hollow words and buffer band-aids.” – Rebecca Sobel, organizing director, WildEarth Guardians
“This is an important step forward, but it is not the destination. As New Mexico’s leaders and the federal government work to protect the region in the immediate vicinity of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, they must also step up to protect the communities and land of Greater Chaco as a whole. That means first, ending the wave of new fracking permits. Second, it means rejecting boondoggle ideas like fossil gas hydrogen that will only entrench the profit and power of the oil and gas industry. And third, it means providing communities with an opportunity to forge a new, thriving, and just economy that protects land, air, and water.” – Ally Beasley, attorney, Western Environmental Law Center
“Oil and gas extraction has impacted the Greater Chaco region for decades, and through initiating a process for a 20-year mineral withdrawal, we hope the administration will do more to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape that extends far beyond the Park’s boundaries. The ‘Honoring Greater Chaco’ process should prioritize protecting the living culture and public and spiritual wellness of communities throughout the region. To truly protect this sacred landscape, the administration must uphold its promise to ban all new oil and drilling and focus its efforts toward environmental justice and not continue a legacy of energy sacrifice zones.” – Miya King-Flaherty, Our Wild New Mexico Organizer, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter
“Ahee’hee President Joe Biden and Secretary Deb Haaland for listening to the Native Indigenous voices and to the People and Mother Earth in moving forward with a pause on new oil and gas leasing in the Greater Chaco region. This action is a historic event and a victory for the People, although temporary, a victory nonetheless. We must now move forward with needed scientific, environmental, and human health analyses to address adverse impacts of oil and gas. Most of all, we as Indigenous people must educate, enforce and defend our right to protect our Sacred Sites. This is America, where Democracy has ruled for thousands of years.” – Terry A. Sloan, Director of Southwest Native Cultures, Albuquerque, NM
“The proposed leasing ban is a good step, but more needs to be done for a region that’s suffered for decades from federal and fossil fuel industry exploitation. Environmental justice and our planet’s future demand that President Biden keep his promise to end federal fossil fuel leasing and extraction in the Chaco region and the entire country.” – Taylor McKinnon, senior campaigner, Center for Biological Diversity
“President Biden took a promising step in initiating the withdrawal of federal mineral and fossil fuel extraction around Chaco Canyon, but he is empowered to do much more. New Mexicans need a permanent end to fossil fuel extraction and development. Chaco Canyon’s cultural importance to New Mexico and the whole country cannot be overstated. The President must match his words with action and permanently ban fossil fuel extraction beyond a 10 mile radius in the Chaco region and entire country.” – Jorge Aguilar, Southern Organizing Director, Food & Water Watch
“The cultural legacy of Chaco extends far beyond park boundaries. Tribal communities beyond the 10-mile buffer zone deserve protection from the onslaught of fracking and new fracked-hydrogen threats. The climate crisis illustrates that drawing new lines on a map doesn’t address the problem – protecting our communities, our clean water and clean air cannot be done in one place, but must include all places. The Department of Interior has the opportunity to right the wrongs of racist colonialism that propels the current bureaucratic mess in northwest New Mexico. If the Administration wants to truly Honor Greater Chaco, they must start with addressing the widespread environmental and community impacts of fracking.” – Margaret Wadsworth, Frack Free New Mexico, El Rito, New Mexico
“While President Biden is taking an important step toward permanent protection of the Greater Chaco Landscape, there is still much work to be done. To safeguard tribes and communities from the disastrous effects of fossil fuels, we must hold the administration accountable for ending all oil and gas development in Chaco Canyon and the surrounding area.” – Raena Garcia, Fossil Fuels and Lands Campaigner, Friends of the Earth
“This limited pause on leases is an important step, but there should be no delay in moving to stop all fossil fuel development in the Chaco region. Any management plan incorporating new fracking wells is a death sentence for the climate and flies in the face of President Biden and Secretary’s Haaland’s promises. Building Back Better means permanent protections for a fossil-free Greater Chaco and beyond, and listening to — not just consulting with — the Indigenous communities who’ve safeguarded Chaco’s lands for centuries.” – Collin Rees, Campaigns Manager at Oil Change International