President Joe Biden’s Department of the Interior took another step this week to lock up 30 percent of the nation’s land and waterways by 2030.
On Friday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a 10-mile radius around the Chaco Cultural National Historical Park now cut off from new oil and gas leases despite local opposition to the new regulations. The 10-mile buffer around the American Indian historical site offers protections for existing leases but eliminates opportunities for new drilling for the next 20 years.
“Efforts to protect the Chaco landscape have been ongoing for decades, as Tribal communities have raised concerns about the impacts that new development would have on areas of deep cultural connection,” Haaland said in an agency press release. “I value and appreciate the many Tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”
Local Indian tribes, however, welcomed more oil and gas exploration in the area as a primary source of economic development. In May, the Navajo Nation voted to reject the administration’s plans to withdraw 351,000 acres from consideration for oil and gas leases. The Interior Department’s decision is estimated to cost the tribe more than $194 million over the next two decades, according to the Western Energy Alliance, an industry group for independent oil and gas producers.
The Alliance published a press release Friday afternoon denouncing Haaland’s decision and the secretary’s “clear conflicts of interest.” Haaland’s daughter, Somah, lobbied for the decision on behalf of the Pueblo Action Alliance (PAA), an Albuquerque-based climate group demanding protections for Chaco Canyon that extend beyond the 10-mile barrier announced Friday. Pueblo tribes oppose oil and gas activity in the region claiming risks to the UNESCO World Heritage site with archaeological ruins dating back to the pre-Columbian period thousands of years ago. Secretary Haaland, the first American Indian to lead the Department of the Interior, is a member of the Pueblo Laguna.
Kathleen Sgamma, the president of the Western Energy Alliance, charged Secretary Haaland with playing to tribal loyalty.
“She completely ignored the democratic resolutions of the sovereign Navajo Nation whose lands surround the park to put the interests of her tribe, based a hundred miles away, and obstructionist groups first,” Sgamma said. “The decision prevents Navajo property owners from accessing the oil and natural gas resources they own which provide them with their sustenance.”
Readers of the New York Times would have no clue Secretary Haaland’s daughter worked for the primary group spearheading efforts to choke off lands near Chaco Canyon from oil and gas extraction. The paper’s coverage of Friday’s announcement made no reference to the conflicts of interest surrounding the decision. Emails obtained by The Federalist last year revealed Coral Davenport, who reported on the new restrictions Friday, taking orders from Biden’s Interior Department.
“For several months, people have been warning about Secretary Haaland’s conflict of interest involving issues that her daughter’s organization lobbied on,” Michael Chamberlain, the director of Protect the Public’s Trust told The Federalist. “Adding fuel to the fire, the Secretary participated in a documentary about Chaco Canyon, which was narrated by her daughter, Somah Haaland, and left no doubt about the position the younger Haaland’s organization preferred. This appears to be the Secretary and Department of the Interior continuing to place policy goals ahead of their [ethical] obligations.”
Larry Behrens, the communications director for the energy non-profit Power the Future, called Friday’s decision from the department the “latest slap in the face” to oil and gas producers.
“Given the common-sense precautions already in place, this decision has nothing to do with protecting the land and everything to do with protecting Joe Biden’s green campaign donors,” Behrens told The Federalist.
Oil and gas in New Mexico is the state’s primary engine for revenue, generating more than $2 billion per year in direct payments from industry operations. New Mexico depends on oil and gas revenue for about a third of the state budget.