NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico’s federal lawmakers are trying again to pass a bill to protect land around Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. If passed, the bill would create a 10-mile zone free of new oil and gas wells around Chaco Canyon.
The original bill was introduced in the U.S. House in 2019. In October of that year, it passed in the U.S. House, but never got a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now, New Mexico’s senators say they’re going to try to get the bill passed in the Senate, which is expected to remain under Democratic control following the midterm election.
“I’m proud to reintroduce legislation in the Senate to continue those efforts to preserve this sacred landscape that has been the center of so much history and heritage for Pueblos and Tribes in New Mexico,” Senator Ben Ray Luján said in a press release. “My team and I have continued meeting with all rights holders and local groups and listening to the surrounding communities impacted. With such important historical and cultural significance, my legislation ensures the Greater Chaco Region will be permanently protected and preserved for generations to come.”
Recently, President Biden said that he’s also taking steps to protect Chaco Canyon, and the U.S. Interior Department has announced plans to remove around 340,000 acres of public land around Chaco Canyon from the listing of leasable lands for mineral and oil extraction. In effect, that would prevent new oil and gas wells from being installed on that land for the next 20 years.
That plan would not stop existing mineral leases on the land. An environmental impact report estimates that if approved, the plans to protect those 340,000 or so acres would prevent around new 47 wells from popping up in the next 20 years and prevent a little over 4 million barrels of oil from being produced in that time.
So, while the federal government is considering some protections, New Mexico’s legislators are hoping to get protective laws on the books. The bill being reintroduced would not only force some oil and gas leases to end, but also would prevent new leases permanently, rather than just for the next 20 years.
Still, some advocates say it’s not enough. The Greater Chaco Coalition Coordinating Group, which is composed of community members and advocacy groups, spoke out about the act this week.
“While the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act is a step in the right direction, much broader measures are needed to protect communities, public health, and the climate from the cumulative and widespread impacts of oil and gas extraction on the Greater Chaco Landscape. This region has been treated as a sacrifice zone for far too long,” the group said in a press release. “It’s time for federal and state agencies and elected leaders to live up to their promises and take meaningful steps to permanently protect the Greater Chaco Landscape as a whole, putting Tribes, Pueblos, and impacted communities first.”