FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 30th, 2019
Contact: Alicia Ortega, [email protected]
Legislation to Permanently Protect Greater Chaco Landscape Passes House of Representatives
Efforts to remove lands near Chaco Culture National Historical Park from future oil and gas lease sales moves closer to law
Albuquerque, N.M. – Bipartisan legislation that would permanently protect the Greater Chaco Landscape passed the U.S. House of Representatives today and now heads to the Senate. The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019 (H.R. 2181) would remove all public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within a specified withdrawal area approximately 10-miles outside of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from consideration for future oil and gas lease sales, officially codifying a halt on drilling in the region.
“The Pueblos of New Mexico and Texas are forever tied to the cultural resources found across the Greater Chaco Landscape,” said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman Edward Paul Torres. “The integrity of this region ensures the continuance of our cultural traditions, and the well-being of our identity as handed down to us by our ancestors. On behalf of the Council, I want to thank Assistant Speaker Luján and his fellow lawmakers for their commitment to protecting the places that are most meaningful and vital to our Pueblo nations and communities.”
“We must do everything we can to protect the lands around Chaco before the region’s natural beauty is forever replaced by images of oil rigs and methane flares,” said Vice-Chairman and current Santa Clara Pueblo Governor Michael Chavarria. “It’s well past time for Interior to listen to the multitude of voices calling for the permanent preservation of our sacred lands. The legislation to protect Chaco from oil and gas development is exactly what this region needs.”
The House version of the Chaco protection legislation is sponsored by Assistant Speaker of the House Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and is co-sponsored by a bipartisan array of representatives, including Representatives Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM). Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is sponsoring an identical version of the bill in the Senate, which he originally introduced in 2018 along with co-sponsor Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). The two versions of the bill were reintroduced in April 2019. Every member of New Mexico’s congressional delegation is co-sponsoring the legislation. The legislation is supported by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Navajo Nation, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, cultural and religious leaders, local communities, small businesses, environmental and conservation organizations, sportsmen groups, and many other communities.
More than 90 percent of the lands in the BLM Farmington district have already been leased for oil and gas drilling and the Greater Chaco Region has long been a target for oil and gas companies. In early 2019, after immense pressure from diverse stakeholders, BLM reversed course for a third time on a lease sale within the Greater Chaco area. Without this legislation, however, new lease sales would continue at the administration’s discretion.
Congressional and state-level leaders have combined efforts to protect the Greater Chaco Region while the legislation works its way through the congressional process. This spring, New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard issued a moratorium on oil and gas lease sales on state trust lands located within the withdrawal area defined by the federal legislation. In April, Assistant Speaker Lujan and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) joined several of their colleagues on the House Committee on Natural Resources for a tour of Chaco to learn more about the impacts of oil and gas development in the region. A month later, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt visited Chaco at the request of Sen. Heinrich to observe the threats to cultural resources poised by rampant development. Following the visit, Sec. Bernhardt agreed to direct the BLM to implement a one-year moratorium on oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile area around the national park.
The BLM is currently preparing a Resource Management Plan amendment that will outline the future of development projects in northwest New Mexico for years to come. Meanwhile, Sec. Bernhardt’s one-year moratorium expires in May 2020, potentially opening the Greater Chaco Landscape to further oil and gas development if the Chaco protection legislation has not been signed into law.