NM congressional lawmakers revive effort to protect Chaco from drilling, mining

By: - May 4, 2023 4:05 am
petroglyph of a star, crescent moon and hand print at Chaco Canyon

A well preserved petroglyph of a star, crescent moon and hand print at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. (Stock photo from Getty Images)

New Mexico’s congressional delegation on Wednesday again introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, with support from Pueblo governments and environmental organizations.

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The legislation would prevent future leasing and development of oil, gas and minerals on more than 316,000 acres of non-Indian federal lands that are within a 10-mile buffer zone around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The federal bill is supported by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Southwest Native Cultures and more than 40 other organizations, according to a summary released by Sen. Ben Ray Luján’s office.

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The bill being brought back to Congress “serves as a means to safeguard our Indigenous histories and reaffirm our enduring connections permanently,” said Mark Mitchell (Tesuque), chair of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, in a news release on Wednesday.

A report by the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks found earlier this year that environmental problems in Chaco and other places in the country could get worse without federal intervention.

A 2018 survey found that more than 80% of participating Diné residents of three Navajo chapters reported health concerns linked to living near oil and gas facilities.

The area is also an irreplaceable, sacred, interconnected landscape unlike any other, Acoma Pueblo Gov. Randall Vicente said last spring.

“Over the past several decades, waves of oil and gas development have directly impacted and threatened our cultural resources and the sacred landscape at Chaco Canyon and the Greater Chaco region,” Vicente said.

The U.S. Interior Department found last fall that such a ban would only slightly reduce the activity of oil, gas and mining companies.

New Mexico in 2019 banned new oil and gas leases on state lands in a 12-mile buffer zone around Chaco.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.