The Biden administration’s approval of oil leases in a corner of New Mexico has become a battleground for increased development and protection of Native American lands that have led to legal challenges.
Environmental groups are suing the Department of Land Management and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. They argue in a complaint filed Wednesday that the federal government is going back on its word by clearing the way for oil and gas development on lands belonging to the Chaco Culture National. Historical Park.
At issue are leases of more than 70 square miles in western New Mexico. The groups say the federal government agreed in April to reconsider the Trump-era leases because they are close to homes and an area sacred to Navajos.
“We are saddened by the Department of Land Management’s decision to double down on analyzing and ignoring the cumulative, unfair and wrongful impacts of oil and gas leasing and drilling in the Greater Chaco (region),” said Ally Beasley with the Western Environmental Law Center. in a story.
The Bureau of Land Management said Thursday that the parcels in question are outside the 10-mile zone around the Chaco basin that the agency has been monitoring for years.
Under Haaland’s proposal, that buffer would be in effect for the next 20 years and would prevent oil and gas development on the lands surrounding that area.
Federal land managers are currently evaluating the proposal, although Navajo Nation officials have argued that a small area should be protected because the tribe and its citizens will benefit from oil and gas development.
Environmentalists argue that the Bureau of Land Management has not considered the cumulative effects of mining in the area. Archaeologists and leaders of New Mexico pueblos with ancestral ties to the Chaco region are also concerned about the destruction of cultural sites outside the boundaries of the park and the park zone.
A World Heritage Site, Chaco Park is considered to be the center of the historic site of the indigenous people and many tribes in the Southwest trace their roots to the high desert. Archaeologists have found evidence of major roads that extended from the Chaco through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
Haaland, who is from Laguna Pueblo, has talked about his own people’s connection to the area. He visited in November last year and announced his agency’s desire to develop a country-level plan to protect the region’s cultural heritage.
The Department of Land Management, which is managed by Haaland’s office, on Thursday reiterated its commitment to update the environmental analysis that controls the lease in the region and promised more places for the public speaking.