A provision tucked into the $3.5 trillion spending and tax bill would ban new drilling for oil and natural gas on and near Navajo land in northwestern New Mexico.
Convinced that the ban would cause severe economic harm to tribal members in the affected area, the 24th Navajo Council sent a Sept. 27 letter, obtained by the Washington Times, to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy requesting a field hearing in Nageezi, New Mexico before Congress acts on the legislation.
“We applaud Congress for its inclusion of tribal program investments in the propose $3.5 trillion budget resolution and reconciliation proposals,” the letter said. “However, we write to respectfully inform you of our opposition to the [manager’s] amendment of the House Natural Resources Committee proposal that includes a section to prohibit new oil and gas development within the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area in northwestern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.”
The House Natural Resources Committee’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, sponsored the manager’s amendment withdrawing new mineral leasing and nullifying inactive leases within a 10-mile buffer surrounding the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area, a 34,000-acre site known for its ancient architectural ruins. No drilling is allowed with the park.
Confronted with the bill’s anti-drilling language, the Navajo favor a five-mile buffer zone, which would protect the site and allow for energy development that will benefit tribal communities.
“The official position of the Navajo Nation reflects the interests of the Navajo allotted landowners [allottees] in the greater Chaco area and it provides a compromise between a threat to their livelihoods and the bills calls for increased protections from mineral development,” the letter explained.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, told the Washington Times that the five-mile buffer would “ensure protection of cultural resources while enabling responsible development of energy.”
“Now the Democrats are trying to sneak into the reconciliation bill a measure that would shut down the livelihoods of Navajo families who depend on oil and gas for income in an otherwise marginal, impoverished area,” she said in an email to the Times. “Depriving them a major source of income is not only environmental injustice but bad for Navajo consumers paying high prices at the pump.”
The Times reports that the manager’s amendment “further curtails mineral development by reversing a land swap between the federal government and mining interests in Arizona’s Oak Flat area; prohibits new oil-and-gas leasing in Colorado’s Thompson’s Divide; and bars offshore leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf …”
At this point, it appears that the $3.5 trillion spending and tax bill will have to be scaled back if it is to receive enough Democratic votes to pass the Senate. This means that some provisions will have to go, a process that will be negotiated in the coming weeks. Whether Grijalva’s manager’s amendment survives and, if so, in what form is anybody’s guess.
If the amendment is left intact, the Navajos in New Mexico will become the latest victims in the headlong – and heedless – rush to rid the nation of fossil fuels in the name of combatting climate change. The effort will have no effect on the climate; the same cannot be said for the Navajos.