At a White House summit meeting, President Joe Biden will unveil billions of dollars in new infrastructure and social and public security programs for US tribes.
President Joe Biden will unveil a plan Monday to prevent new oil and gas drilling around one of the largest and most valuable Native American sites in the United States.
According to a White House statement, Biden is ordering the U.S. Department of the Interior to initiate a process to prevent oil and gas drilling on federal land within a 16 km (10 mile) radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
The president is expected to attend a summit meeting with more than 570 tribal leaders from across the United States at the White House on Monday. The Chaco Canyon oil and gas restrictions are part of a broader set of political moves announced at the meeting, which aims to support the Native Americans of the United States.
The US oil and gas drilling policy has emerged as an increase point of friction between industry, indigenous leaders and environmentalists as the Biden administration seeks to tackle climate change by limiting fossil fuel emissions while continuing to meet US energy needs.
Chaco Canyon was the center of a thriving Pueblo civilization in the period between AD 850 and 1250. By mining sandstone and harvesting lumber from long distances, indigenous peoples built large and architecturally complex structures.
“Chaco Canyon is a sacred site that holds profound significance to the indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked and thrived in that high desert community,” US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement.
Haaland, a former New Mexico environmental activist, is the first Native American to serve as Secretary of the Department of the Interior in United States history.
Additionally, on Monday, the White House is expected to announce the establishment of a first Native American advisory council at the Secretary of the Department of the Interior.
The pueblos and tribes of Arizona and New Mexico have long raised concerns about the invasion of oil and gas development around Chaco Canyon that threaten sacred and cultural sites, the White House said.
The Chaco Canyon area includes important archaeological finds that are among the most significant and intact signs of Native American culture prior to European colonization starting in the 1500s.
The United States Congress has taken a number of measures in recent years to prevent new leases in the oil and gas development area.
Now the Department of the Interior will begin considering a 20-year retirement of lands within 16 km (10 miles) of the park from the new federal oil and gas leasing and development, the White House said.
Biden’s order is not a total ban on oil and gas drilling in the area. The proposed withdrawal would not apply to individual mineral rights assignments already owned by private, state or tribal entities, according to the White House.
Members of the Navajo tribe, the largest in the United States, had urged federal authorities not to prevent individual Navajos from obtaining an important source of income from drilling in the buffer zone around the park.
“There doesn’t seem to be any scientific or environmental rationale for that 10-mile radius,” Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, told the New York Times.paywall), who first reported the news.
“Given the role that oil and gas play in that area’s economy, we shouldn’t have an arbitrary number that would limit the economic opportunities, perhaps the only economic opportunities, in that part of the state,” McEntyre said.
The remote 12,140-hectare (30,000-acre) Chaco Canyon Park was established in the US state of New Mexico by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Chaco Canyon is considered to be one of the best places in the United States for stargazing due to the dark night skies devoid of light pollution.
Biden is announcing plans to invest billions of dollars in new infrastructure and social and public security programs for U.S. tribes, including taking steps to enforce better federal recognition of rights of the historical treaty.