Luján Initiative To Protect Chaco Canyon Passes House

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján’s initiative to secure a one-year moratorium on oil and gas drilling near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park was passed Tuesday by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Assistant Speaker Luján’s amendment was included in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations package that passed Tuesday – a critical move toward securing a permanent ban on oil and gas drilling in the greater Chaco region.
A one-year moratorium is an environmental victory for the greater Chaco region and a major step toward a permanent ban that will forever protect this sacred land. The one-year ban also holds Interior Secretary David Bernhardt accountable by looking to codify his agreement for a one-year withdrawal from these lands for oil and gas leasing consideration into law.
Luján’s amendment prohibits federal funding to be used for further mineral development around the Chaco Culture National Historic Park on federal lands for one year. It does not affect the mineral rights of an Indian Tribe or member of an Indian Tribe to trust land or allotment land.
Earlier this year, Luján, Haaland and Torres Small introduced legislation to permanently protect the greater Chaco Canyon region from harmful oil and gas drilling.
“As New Mexicans, we take pride in our beautiful public lands and sacred sites – and we understand the importance of protecting these sites to preserve our culture and history. Chaco Canyon is one of the world’s most prized sacred sites, and we must protect this region from harmful oil and gas drilling. Today’s passage of my effort to impose a one-year moratorium on drilling will safeguard these lands – and build critical momentum toward passing permanent protections. With today’s affirmative vote on the House floor, we urge the Senate to take action and protect these sacred lands.” Assistant Speaker Luján said.
“The beauty of our state and its rich cultural history are embodied in Chaco. Yet, it’s continuously threatened by oil and gas development. Today, we took a stand and passed a provision that will halt new leases for a year. It’s a step toward permanent protections for Chaco, which will ensure the Pueblo people have access to our heritage sites and the world can enjoy how meaningful and special it is,” said Haaland, vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“Chaco Canyon is a world-renowned cultural treasure that must be protected, both for its historical value and for the tribal communities that still call it home. I am pleased to see this provision move through the House and encourage members of the Senate to ensure that these protections are included in appropriations bills going forward,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
“We stand in support of Chaco Canyon through the Chaco amendment that is included in the Interior Appropriations bill as a means of protecting the Chaco landscape for our future generations of Indigenous people. We thank Congressman Luján, the House appropriations committee, and others for their support as we move this effort forward together,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said.
“On behalf of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, I would like to thank Representative Ben Ray Luján for his continued leadership and commitment working in coordination with our Pueblo nations and the entirety of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation to protect the Greater Chaco Region. Having the collective voice of our Pueblos reflected in this legislation ensures that our needs, requests, and concerns regarding protection of our cultural resources for use by our present and future generations are heard and addressed at the highest levels of government. We especially appreciate language directing the Bureau of Land Management to refrain from proposing new leases within the 10-mile withdrawal area aligning with Secretary Bernhardt’s recent visit to Chaco Canyon and announcement of a one year moratorium, respecting the role of Congress in determining via the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act how these lands will be managed in the future,” said Chairman E. Paul Torres, All Pueblo Council of Governors.
“We are grateful our congressional representatives not only understand the importance of the Greater Chaco Region to Pueblo people but are willing to take the necessary steps to protect it.  Today, with the help of Congressman Luján, the House acted to protect this sacred place and the invaluable cultural resources it holds. We urge Congress to continue down this path of protection,” said J. Michael Chavarria, Governor of Santa Clara Pueblo.
“Protecting our ancient lands and our living communities means putting a stop to BLM’s dangerous practice of allowing industrial fracking on our lands without consideration for the health and safety of our communities or the impact on our cultural sites,” said Samuel Sage, Community Service coordinator, Counselor Chapter House. “We applaud Congressman Luján for his continued work to protect Greater Chaco from destructive fracking.”
“In a historic moment, Assistant Speaker Luján led the House of Representatives to protect the treasured Chaco Canyon from oil and gas development, for the next year,” said Michael Casaus, New Mexico State Director for The Wilderness Society. “Protecting Chaco Canyon transcends partisanship, with Secretary Bernhardt having extended temporary protection to the cultural area following a recent visit. It is a place that belongs to the ages and we urge the Senate to join the House and Trump administration in conserving it for future generations.”
“Our communities have made it clear that we do not want to see expanded fracking in Greater Chaco, and we are glad to see Congress take this important step towards protecting this special place and the people who live there,” said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Director Camilla Feibelman. “We will continue to work towards achieving permanent protection for Greater Chaco to safeguard our region’s rich cultural history, community health, and Indigenous rights.”
“Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park’s official boundaries, so lease sales by BLM in the surrounding area almost always mean the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat and dark skies.  Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján’s amendment to the House Interior-Environment Appropriations spending bill represents a major step forward toward permanently protecting the area’s rich cultural heritage, world-class archaeological resources and sensitive natural landscape,” said Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild.  “We are grateful for Assistant Speaker Luján’s leadership fighting for a budget that reflects New Mexico values.”
“Rep. Luján’s legislation offers needed protections for Chaco Canyon as well as for nearby communities whose homes, schools, and community centers could be adversely affected by air and water pollution from oil and gas development. We are proud to support this important legislation,” said Jon Goldstein, director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“We at Archaeology Southwest are very pleased that Congressman Luján’s amendment has passed and it part of the Interior Appropriations bill. This will help protect Greater Chaco’s fragile sites and landscapes,” said Paul Reed, Preservation Archaeologist at Archeology Southwest.
“Greater Chaco is a special place and deserves protection—especially while the Department of the Interior prepares a new management plan and Congress considers more permanent protections. The appropriations language proposed by Rep. Luján is necessary to ensure that the area and neighboring communities will not be further devastated by oil and gas development,” said Allison Kelly, senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council.
“As local, western elected officials, we understand that you can’t put a price on our public lands and cultural history. Both are invaluable to local economies and make the West such an incredible place to live and visit. Western Leaders Network appreciates Congressman Luján’s leadership to protect the Greater Chaco region,” said Gwen Lachelt, Director of Western Leaders Network.
“The National Parks Conservation Association commends the U.S. House for their passage of protections for the cultural landscape surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park, through the Interior appropriations bill. We look forward to the complete, permanent withdrawal of these lands and urge the Senate to make the same commitment to protecting our national parks and public lands from unnecessary, shortsighted oil and gas development,“ said Ernie Atencio, Southwest Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association.