Biden unveils proposal to remove federal lands in Greater Chaco from extraction activities

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — President Joe Biden unveiled a proposal to prohibit new oil and gas leases and developments on federal lands located within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for the next two years.

Under the process announced by Biden, the U.S. Department of the Interior will consider withdrawing federal lands from extraction activities for 20 years.

Biden made the announcement on Nov. 15 at the start of the White House Tribal Nations Summit, a two-day virtual conference between the executive branch leadership and tribal leaders.

Members of pueblos and tribal nations have for year called on protecting the Greater Chaco area from encroaching oil and gas developments because it is ancestral land and holds sacred and cultural sites.

President Joe Biden is greeted by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, right, on Nov. 15 at the White House Tribal Nations Summit in Washington, D.C.

The proposal would impact approximately 316,000 acres the federal government holds in the region. However, the ban would not apply to Individual Indian Allotments or to minerals owned by private, state or tribal entities.

It will also not restrict development of roads, water lines, transmission lines or buildings.

Biden's action drew swift reaction from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA).

"Arbitrary limits on development in the region will only disrupt the largest and most successful part of New Mexico's economy and will rob local communities of jobs and economic growth opportunities," the association said in a statement.

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"While the administration has missed an early opportunity to engage with all stakeholders to ensure the longevity of Chaco Canyon, we hope future discussions can yield policies that are firmly rooted in science," the NMOGA statement also said.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a statement that he intends to reintroduce legislation to permanently withdraw federal lands around Chaco Canyon from further mineral development.

This is the first White House Tribal Nations Summit since 2016. Similar dialogue between federal and tribal governments occurred during former President Barack Obama's administration.

Biden also signed an executive order on Nov. 15 to improve public safety and criminal justice for Native Americans and to addresses the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people.

President Joe Biden signs an executive order on Nov. 15 to improve public safety and criminal justice for Native Americans and to address the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people.

"Today, I'm directing federal officials to work with tribal nations on a strategy to improve public safety and advance justice," Biden said.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland provided further details about the executive order in comments after the president.

Garland said the executive order requires the development of a comprehensive strategy on federal law enforcement efforts to prevent and respond to violence against Native Americans.

More:Biden orders feds to tackle 'epidemic' of missing or murdered Indigenous people

Under the order, the U.S. Department of Justice will launch the steering committee to address the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people. The committee will develop the comprehensive plan that will go to Biden.

Another aspect of the order directs the departments of Justice and Interior to work with other agencies to develop guidance and technical assistance on several issues, including creating tribal community response plans.

"It is our hope that we will advance meaningful responses to cases of missing or murdered Indigenous people and serve as a blueprint moving forward," Garland said.

President Joe Biden addresses tribal leaders from Washington, D.C. on Nov. 15 during the virtual White House Tribal Nations Summit.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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