Statement from Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, the Western Environmental Law Center, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, WildEarth Guardians, and Natural Resources Defense Council:

Taos, NM – New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich yesterday introduced legislation to codify into law a 10-mile buffer zone restricting new oil and gas extraction around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The Bureau of Land Management had promised not to offer oil and gas leases in this area, but included parcels within the buffer zone in a lease sale it later deferred in response to public outcry.

Today’s legislation is a helpful first step to provide some much-needed relief for the area, where it is common to see methane flares and heavy equipment when approaching the park. We look forward to working with the delegation and all stakeholders to protect the Greater Chaco landscape and to consider action to protect not only the Park, but the communities who live in the region that are already dealing with the adverse impacts of oil and gas activities.

Chaco’s cultural resources extend well beyond the boundaries of the park and the proposed buffer, into a landscape that is over 91 percent leased for oil and gas extraction. The local communities here suffer intensively from the ongoing impacts of oil and gas extraction, with poor air quality, heavy truck traffic, and serious harmful health effects. As such, this legislation is a welcome piece of what must become a broader conversation that acknowledges the federal government’s responsibility to address a legacy of exploitation in the Greater Chaco for the sake of its living Native communities as well as the irreplaceable cultural resources that make the area the heart of the Southwest. This conversation would present the opportunity to not just address the harms caused by fossil fuels, but the opportunities to support a just transition towards a healthier, more durable economy.

We thank the senators for working closely with the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors on this issue. As their work continues, we encourage the delegation and all stakeholders to also acknowledge and engage in discussions regarding the future of the Greater Chaco landscape directly with local Native leadership and communities of the Tri-Chapters—Ojo Encino, Counselor, and Torreon—and Navajo Eastern Agency Management Zone whose on-the-ground perspective is essential to ensure well-reasoned and well-informed actions.