Navajo citizens say Biden 'doubles down' on Trump-era fracking on sacred Greater Chaco
Lawsuit contends Interior betrayed Haaland's own 'Honoring Chaco' initiative.
WASHINGTON — A group of Navajo (Diné) citizens and conservation groups this week legally challenged the Biden administration’s approval of fracking on nearly 70 square miles of the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico, saying the move betrays Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s recent promises.
Their lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico by the following organizations: Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, and the Sierra Club.
Catch up: The groups in April entered a legal agreement with the Biden administration under which the administration reconsidered previous leasing decisions made during the Trump administration “given the fracking’s close proximity to homes and within the sacred Sisnaateel Mesa Complex, central to Diné cosmology and akin in importance to Jerusalem, Mecca, or the Bodhi Tree in India,” according to a press release from the Western Environmental Law Center.
“Betraying Interior Sec. Deb Haaland’s “Honoring Chaco” initiative, the Bureau of Land Management rubber-stamped approvals for this leasing in August.”
The Honoring Chaco initiative was a process announced last year by Haaland aimed at protecting a 10-mile buffer against new fracking around Chaco.
But the groups argue that the decision by the BLM, an agency of Interior, amounted to a “double-down on Trump-era fracking on sacred land in Greater Chaco.”
What they’re saying: “These Bureau of Land Management’s approvals for oil and gas leasing undermines the trust responsibility the Bureau has with Diné living on the Counselor, Ojo Encino, and Torreon lands,” Diné C.A.R.E. Greater Chaco Energy Organizer Mario Atencio said in a statement.
“The Sisnaateel Mesa Complex is highly sacred for the Diné, and it should not come to a lawsuit for the Bureau to reduce the adverse effects its oil and leasing bonanza is having on lands in the Greater Chaco Landscape. Somewhere, the Bureau administration needs to come into alignment with the Justice40, the ‘Honoring Chaco’ initiative, and other executive orders that are supposed to bring environmental justice to the Diné.”
More: “The challenge faults the agency’s failure to adequately analyze the effects this fracking will have on the climate, public health, environmental justice, and cultural resources. In addition, the groups are challenging the Bureau’s failure to take steps to avoid unnecessary and undue degradation of public lands in the Greater Chaco landscape or even define the term in the context of climate,” according to the Western Environmental Law Center.
“…The majority (over 90%) of available lands within the Greater Chaco region are already leased for oil and gas development, with more than 40,000 wells existing in the area. Groups have called on Interior Secretary Haaland to pause oil and gas leasing and drilling as the Honoring Chaco initiative unfolds.”
Interior has yet to respond to the lawsuit.
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