RDC wants Chaco buffer zone reduced
The Resources and Development Committee wants Congress to cut its Chaco Canyon protection bill by half.
RDC member Mark Freeland is sponsoring a bill (No. 0366-19) to request that the proposed 10-mile buffer zone around Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, inside of which no oil and gas drilling would be allowed, be reduced to five miles. The entire RDC is co-sponsoring this bill along with Budget and Finance Chair Jamie Henio.
The RDC-backed bill states the establishment of a 10-mile buffer would have a negative economic impact on Navajos who own allotted lands within the buffer zone, because it will affect royalty payments they could or do receive from oil and gas development on their lands.
It also stated that the communities of Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Pueblo Pintado and White Rock are concerned about the consequences to their livelihood if the 10-mile buffer zone is enacted, which is why they are asking to downsize the zone.
“In Eastern Navajo we don’t need people that don’t live there stopping our relations from getting water line and power lines to their home,” stated allottee Etta Arviso about the initial 10-mile buffer zone. “Our Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez should not meet with outside people that are not Navajo Nation tribal members,” she said, “and meetings should have happened in the community areas at the Navajo Nation chapters.”
In April, a meeting was held at Chaco Canyon between U.S. representatives Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland (both D-N.M.), Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer, Council delegates Darrel Tso, Freeland and others such as Pueblo of Acoma Gov. Brian Vallo.
They met to discuss the protection bill. In June, Lizer testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. Confronted by the Times in April, Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, said, “I don’t know what to tell them (allottees).
“I don’t see all the fracking and drilling helping the communities at all,” she said. “We know there are people without running water, but there is water going to the fracking sites. “Why isn’t the gas and oil industry helping people more?” she asked. “They’re doing nothing for the community!”
Some residents, however, like Ramona Begay, were upset that those who would be directly impacted by the buffer zone weren’t completely notified by Nez or anyone else about the proposal until the congressional meeting.
“The first time the local Navajo people became aware of the legislation is when Council Delegate Daniel Tso brought in the U.S. congressional people to meet among themselves privately at Chaco Culture National Historical Park,” stated Begay. “Navajo Nation needs to stand firm to completely oppose the buffer zone.”
She went on to state that before the monument was designated in 1907, Navajo people were already living in Chaco Canyon but were forced out after empty promises were made by the federal government, who stated the designation wouldn’t impact the Navajo people and the residents of the canyon.
“The U.S. government did not keep their word when they changed their mind and made a new decision to forcefully remove the Navajo people from the canyon to destroy their homes, destroy their livestocks, destroy their sheep, goats and horses, destroy their farmland and destroy their culture,” stated Begay.
The Chaco Canyon Protection bill removes more than 316,000 acres from oil and natural gas development, and the use of coal minerals. The bill contains protections for tribal and allotted land, specifically excluding trust and allotted land from withdrawal, stating nothing in the bill “affects the mineral rights of an Indian Tribe or member of an Indian Tribe to trust land or allotment land” and preserving tribes’ and allottees’ rights to build the infrastructure they need elsewhere in the withdrawal area to develop their land.
As an allottee with land within the proposed buffer zone, Tso opposes its reduction, saying he is “dismayed at the optics” of the Navajo Nation passing an opposing legislation after Nez and RDC chair Rickie Nez (who co-sponsored the RDC’s buffer reduction legislation) testified in support of a withdrawal of federal minerals leasing at a field hearing held in Santa Fe.
“The greater Chaco landscape extends in the whole region,” stated Tso, who called the Council legislation an “embarrassment.” “Over 90 percent of federal lands in the areas in and around the 10-mile buffer have been leased for oil and gas development,” he said.
New Mexico’s oil and gas operators are emitting 570,000 tons of methane every year, equivalent to the climate impact of approximately 12 coal-fired power plants, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order to address climate change and energy waste prevention by achieving a statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 45 percent by 2030.
“The lands around Chaco are a world treasure and it is sad to see Navajos so easily split by oil companies and their money,” said Mario Atencio of Torreon, New Mexico, a board member for the grassroots environmental group Diné CARE.
“In all of the hoopla, the public health of the communities and the protections for cultural resources affected by oil and gas is conspicuously absent from any discussion,” he said.
The RDC bill will come before the committee, where it’s certain to pass considering all its members are sponsoring it, and then head to Naabikiyati.