Language intended to protect the Greater Chaco region from increased oil and gas drilling removed in Senate appropriations bill

Press Pool

"The greater Chaco landscape is a sacred place to New Mexico’s pueblos and tribes, and it has been targeted for oil and gas drilling for far too long," secretary says.

News Release

State of New Mexico Indian Affairs Depatment, New Mexico Wild, All Pueblo Council of Governors

Legislation introduced by US Senate Republicans last week to fund the United States Department of the Interior for fiscal year 2021 has excluded language intended to protect the Greater Chaco region from increased oil and gas drilling. 

In 2019, New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich included a rider to the fiscal year 2020 Interior appropriations bill directing the Bureau of Land Management to refrain from approving new oil and gas lease sales within ten miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. That language has been removed from the updated appropriations legislation.

Lynn Trujillo, Sandia Pueblo, is the Cabinet Secretary of New Mexico’s Indian Affairs Department. She spoke at a tribal leaders summit at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in May 2019.
Cabinet Secretary of New Mexico’s Indian Affairs Department Lynn Trujillo, Sandia Pueblo, speaks at a tribal leaders summit at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in May 2019.(Photo: State of New Mexico Indian Affairs Department)

Indian Affairs Department Cabinet Secretary, Lynn Trujillo on Tuesday issues the following statement:

“We are concerned by the appropriations bill released today by Senate Republicans because it would eliminate an existing prohibition on issuing oil and gas leases within 10 miles of Chaco Canyon. The greater Chaco landscape is a sacred place to New Mexico’s pueblos and tribes, and it has been targeted for oil and gas drilling for far too long. We encourage congressional leaders to restore this prohibition, which has been in place for over a year, and to ensure that tribes have sufficient funding to complete critical cultural resource studies that are ongoing in the Greater Chaco landscape. We also look forward to working with the incoming administration to develop lasting protections for Chaco Canyon and native communities who live in the area.”

The All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) applauded inclusion of additional funding proposed by the Senate Committee on Appropriations for a tribally-led cultural resource study of Chaco Canyon and its surrounding cultural landscape. However, the council urged Congress to maintain protections for critical areas of this landscape in its legislation funding the Department of the Interior.

In the 2020 fiscal year, Congress appropriated $1 million for the Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs that took steps to protect Chaco Canyon and its surrounding cultural landscape—a sacred area known as the Greater Chaco Region. The goal was to work with tribal nations or tribal organizations to conduct a tribally-led cultural resource investigation to identify culturally and historically significant areas and sites in the area. 

Congress prohibited the Depratment of the Interior from funding oil and gas leasing activities within a critical withdrawal area of approximately 10-miles around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park until the tribally-led cultural resource study was completed. To date, the tribally-led cultural resource study has not yet been completed.

I call on Congress to enact fiscal year 2021 appropriation legislation for the Department of the Interior that carries forward the moratorium on new oil and gas development on federal land in the critical withdrawal area—where the Senate Committee on Appropriations has removed this important language from the bill text. I applaud the Committee’s inclusion of additional funding for the Chaco Heritage Tribal Association’s tribally-led cultural resource study and urge Congress to maintain this funding in the legislation enacted," All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman Wilfred Herrera said.

Pictured: Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Berndardt, U.S. Senator Martin
 Heinrich, and other tribal leaders visit the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, on May 28, 2019.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Berndardt, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and other tribal leaders visit the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, on May 28, 2019.(Photo: Navajo Nation - Office of the President and Vice President)

A congressional visit, which included Rep. Deb Haaland, to the region in 2019 was made to tour the land before the House was set to vote on legislation that would prohibit drilling on the checkerboard of federal land that borders the park. 

In September, groups criticized Secretary Bernhardt's draft plan to open the region to more drilling despite calls from Pueblo and Navajo leaders the New Mexico delegation, conservation groups and countless others to extend the period for public comment until such time as there could be meaningful, in-person, public input on the Bureau of Land Management’s Draft Farmington Resource Management Plan Amendment.

“The appropriations bill introduced today confirms that too many members of Congress value oil and gas companies over our Native communities and their shared cultural heritage. Over 90% of the lands in the Greater Chaco region are already leased for oil and gas activities, but to some that doesn’t appear to be enough. It’s disheartening to see that a UNESCO World Heritage Site cherished by tribes and pueblos continues to be placed squarely in the crosshairs of the oil and gas industry. We will continue working with the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Navajo Nation, our congressional delegation and the countless New Mexico residents who agree that the Greater Chaco region should be permanently protected,” Executive Director at New Mexico Wild Mark Allison said. 

State of New Mexico Indian Affairs Department
(Image: State of New Mexico Indian Affairs Department)
New Mexico Wilderness logo
(Image: New Mexico Wild)
All Pueblo Council of Governors - logo
(Image: All Pueblo Council of Governors)
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