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New Mexicans Demand Environmental Justice, Landscape-Level Conservation in Greater Chaco

Indigenous, Religious, and Local New Mexican Leaders Call on Senators Udall and Heinrich to Advance Fossil Fuel Transition for Region


Albuquerque, NM— Forty groups delivered a letter today to New Mexico’s U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich urging bold leadership to protect Indigenous rights and environmental justice as industrialized fracking continues to besiege the Greater Chaco region of Northwestern New Mexico.

“New Mexicans are demanding true leadership to defend Greater Chaco,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians.  “True leadership in Greater Chaco requires honoring present-day Indigenous peoples, providing the means for communities to grow and thrive, and acknowledging the need to guide our region away from its unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels.”

During the Congressional recess this month while Senator Heinrich and Udall are in state, constituents plan to hand deliver the letter the week of December 18 to each of their ten New Mexico district offices in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Farmington, Las Cruces, Carlsbad, Roswell, and Portales.

Citing increased pressure from unchecked oil and gas development in Greater Chaco and the collapse of the coal industry, Indigenous, religious, and regional groups asked the New Mexican Senators to support initiatives to help develop more sustainable and prosperous economies.  Groups urged the Senators’ leadership to include local stakeholders in justly transitioning the region away from costly and destructive fossil fuels.

“Whether it’s the destruction of the environment or the boom-bust volatility, reliance on fossil fuels is a lose-lose proposition,” said Sobel.  “New Mexicans are looking to Senators Udall and Heinrich for action, not just to defend Greater Chaco from the current threat of unchecked fracking and coal pollution, but to help build a cleaner, brighter, and more just future that protects the broader fabric of this irreplaceable landscape.”

The Greater Chaco region is particularly vulnerable from fracking.  In the wake of requests from Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors, National Congress of American Indians, and countless other constituents calling for a moratorium on new hydraulic fracturing-related activities in Greater Chaco, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has issued more than 35 new drilling permits within the immediate area of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  In March of 2018, the agency plans to auction off nearly 4,500 additional acres for more drilling and fracking.

Greater Chaco is one of America’s most important landscapes.  With the largest collection of ancient-Puebloan sites, it is home to ancestral and contemporary Native American tribes, including Diné (Navajo) and Pueblo Peoples, that rely on the land to sustain their livelihoods and for traditional and ceremonial practices.  While ancient sites within Chaco Culture National Historical Park remain protected, 91% of the Greater Chaco landscape is currently leased for oil and gas.  There are numerous Great Houses and cultural sites outside of the Park’s boundaries, hundreds of miles of ancient ceremonial roads, wilderness areas, and areas of critical environmental concern that have already been impacted by fracking.

“We must take a landscape level approach to Greater Chaco management issues,” said Sobel.  “While the Trump and Zinke Administration is hell-bent on developing every acre of public land for fossil fuels regardless of public input, we look to Senators Udall and Heinrich to be leaders for New Mexico and shepherd meaningful tribal and public consultation for equitable energy projects.”

See a copy of the letter.

See WildEarth Guardians’ map of oil and gas leasing in Greater Chaco.


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