Continued leasing undercuts Greater Chaco progress

By Miya King-Flaherty, Our Wild America
From the Fall 2022 newsletter

Under the Biden administration, there is hope for better outcomes to protect sacred landscapes like the Greater Chaco region.

It’s promising that the President Biden and Interior Secretary Haaland have taken steps to protect lands near Chaco Culture National Historical Park by initiating a 20-year pause on new oil and gas leasing and drilling within 10 miles of the park and Honoring Chaco Initiative. However, these protections should go further to include protecting the region’s air and water quality, the health and safety of surrounding communities, sacred sites throughout the landscape, and much more.

After last November’s announcement of the Honoring Chaco initiative from Secretary Haaland, preliminary steps on the initiative have started with key stakeholders, including with some members of the Greater Chaco Coalition. We’re hopeful that the Honoring Chaco Initiative will present new approaches for landscape-level protections and land management reforms.

However, while this process is underway, the Bureau of Land Management continues to approve new drilling permits, pipelines, and other oil and gas infrastructure despite calls for an immediate moratorium on new permit approvals, for permanent protections to be put in place that address the cumulative impacts of development, for remediation and restoration of the region, and for meaningful tribal consultation and consent at every stage of decision-making. These calls continue to be ignored by the agencies, as evidenced by the recent Bureau of Land Management decision to reissue Trump-era lease sales from 2018, 2019, and 2020 that open nearly 45,000 acres to oil and gas development. Members of the Greater Chaco Coalition challenged these sales, citing significant issues ranging from environmental concerns to lack of adequate tribal consultation and community outreach to failing to notify the public and more. The Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter is supporting efforts to challenge this latest decision in court.

At the behest of Sen. Joe Manchin, the Inflation Reduction Act also included leasing provisions that guarantee the continued sacrifice of frontline communities and sacred places like the Greater Chaco region. The leasing provisions in the IRA require that millions of acres be leased for oil and gas drilling in order for rights-of-way for wind and solar projects to be approved on public lands and waters. These provisions will impact frontline communities and will have implications here in New Mexico. At a recent October announcement, the Bureau of Land Management issued a draft environmental assessment to offer over 3,000 more acres of lands for fracking in the Permian Basin.

As we chart a new path for a resilient climate future, it’s crucial for land management policies to prioritize public health and safety, environmental justice, and environmental protections. You can take action and tell the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management to end the legacy of sacrifice zones and to truly Honor Chaco: https://bit.ly/3QPXDxf

Featured image: Mario Atencio of Diné Care speaks at a press conference September 29 after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver heard arguments on the Trump administrations’ illegal approval of more than 370 drilling permits in the greater Chaco. .

Continued leasing undercuts Greater Chaco progress