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Heinrich: Protect Chaco permanently

Fajada Butte greets visitors at the entrance of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Sen. Martin Heinrich is asking the Biden administration to withdraw all minerals on federal land in a 10-mile zone surrounding the park from future leasing or sales. (Richard Pipes / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Sen. Martin Heinrich is asking the Biden administration to prohibit future leasing of all minerals on federal land in a 10-mile area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

In a May 7 letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the New Mexico Democrat said an administrative action would protect the region until “permanent protection can be secured legislatively.”

“As you know, the Greater Chaco Landscape is home to innumerable sacred sites and cultural items of critical importance to pueblo, Navajo, and Apache communities,” Heinrich wrote.

A federal moratorium on new leasing in the Chaco region expired at the end of 2020.

New Mexico’s congressional delegation has introduced legislation in past sessions to make the moratorium permanent.

The Bureau of Land Management has been amending a resource management plan for the Farmington area for several years.

“It is time to move from short-term policies that shift every year to the long-term certainty provided by an administrative withdrawal of the federal mineral resources in the vicinity of the park,” Heinrich said.

In January, President Biden paused new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands.

The Interior Department is reviewing the program, and will release a report with recommendations this summer.

Environmental groups said that the current leasing pause accomplished what Heinrich is seeking, and the administration should think bigger.

Kendra Pinto, who grew up in the Counselor Chapter of the Navajo Nation and serves on a committee analyzing oil and gas impacts in the Greater Chaco area, said protections for the 10-mile “buffer zone” wouldn’t do enough for air quality in northwest New Mexico’s patchwork of state, private, tribal and federal land.

“Withdrawing federal minerals directly around Chaco Park is a good start, but politicians need to remember the lives of those outside the buffer zone,” Pinto said. “The buffer is a Band-Aid to the problems at large, and fracking across the region needs to finally address environmental justice and the health of all people across the landscape.”

The president or interior secretary can sign an administrative mineral withdrawal.

Presidential proclamations under the Antiquities Act, congressional legislation, or Federal Energy Regulatory Commission actions can also remove minerals from future leasing.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


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