Monday, May 29, 2023

A Win for Sacred Greater Chaco Region 

Court Ruling Creates Precedent - Feds Must Consider Public Health and Climate Effects of O&G


A Native American environmental group and other advocates just took a giant leap toward environmental justice. A federal appeals court recently ruled the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to adequately analyze the consequences of permitting nearly 199 new oil and gas (O&G) wells in the northwestern Greater Chaco region.

The defeat of O&G drilling permits marks an important victory for the health of frontline Diné communities located near the permitted sites. The Court’s judgment also establishes an important legal precedent that requires the federal government to consider the public health and climate effects of O&G drilling. 

The BLM’s decision to reaffirm the Trump administration’s issuance of O&G leases and approval of the drilling permits was challenged by Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians. The groups claimed BLM didn’t take a hard look at the environmental impacts on culturally and environmentally significant land sacred to the Navajo Nation.

“Today’s 10th Circuit ruling shows that courage in the face of illegal exploitation can win victories for environmental justice. said Mario Atencio, Greater Chaco energy organizer, with Diné C.A.R.E.

The region has been a point of conflict over energy development that has spanned multiple presidential administrations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs joined federal land managers in planning how to manage resources for the first time during the Obama administration.

 While the Biden administration publicized the “Honoring Chaco” initiative, they defended the Trump-era fracking permits in a region already 90% leased for drilling.

The ruling, issued from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found that federal land managers violated the law by not accounting for the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of air pollution and the approval of nearly 200 drilling permits in an area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

“The court’s ruling will help protect the Greater Chaco Region from arbitrary analyses, and enforce environmental justice safeguards.” said Mike Eisenfeld, Energy and Climate Program manager for San Juan Citizens Alliance.

The ruling noted their review was limited to only those applications for permits to drill that had already been approved by the Bureau of Land Management, not the 161 pending applications.

The U.S. Interior Department is considering formalizing a 10-mile buffer around the park. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is working to create a system that includes tribal perspectives and values when land management decisions are made.

“This is an opportunity to truly honor Chaco and we hope the Biden administration seizes the opportunity to do the right thing by protecting communities, the climate, and public lands from the oil and gas industry.” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. 

The Greater Chaco region spans northwest New Mexico, southwest Colorado, southeast Utah, and northeast Arizona. Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere.

“If we want to have clean air to breathe and pass on a liveable planet to the next generation, we must end fracking on public lands,” said Miya King-Flaherty, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter’s organizing representative.


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