Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland took action to protect the cultural and historic resources surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing and mining claims.
President Biden first announced efforts to protect the greater Chaco landscape at the White House Tribal Nations Summit in November 2021. A new public land order withdraws public lands within a 10-mile radius of the park for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights, and responds to decades of efforts from Tribes, elected officials, and the public to better protect the sacred and historic sites and Tribal communities currently living in northwest New Mexico.
“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,” said Secretary Haaland. “Today marks an important step in fulfilling President Biden’s commitments to Indian Country by protecting Chaco Canyon, a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have called this place home since time immemorial. I value and appreciate the many Tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”
The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) issued the following statement, sharing its concern over the action taken by the Department of Interior.
“The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) is concerned with the recent action by the Interior Department proposing to remove approximately 4,200 acres of federal land in New Mexico from potential mining, oil and gas activities,” said Vice President, Government & Regulatory Affairs Michele Stanley. “This unilateral action will have broad implications on the state of New Mexico, and surrounding region, particularly in terms of infrastructure development and economic impact.
“This proposed land withdrawal will limit future aggregate production, which is essential for building and maintaining roads, bridges, homes, schools, and hospitals. Aggregate material from this designated land in Sandoval County is paramount for affordable growth in Sandoval, Bernalillo counties, and beyond. Curtailing access to these resources might lead to aggregate producers resorting to distant properties, escalating transportation costs significantly and increasing emissions with placing more trucks on the road. Estimates suggest that aggregate prices in the Albuquerque metro market could surge anywhere from 30-90%,” Stanley continued.
“New Mexico, a state already grappling with serious infrastructure challenges, stands to face even greater obstacles under this proposed action. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the state has numerous bridges rated as structurally deficient, high-hazard potential dams, and pressing capital expenditure needs for vital infrastructure components like schools, drinking water, and wastewater systems. Sustainable access to aggregates is needed to build new infrastructure that modernizes New Mexico communities and delivers clean water and renewable energy to every home.
“It is worth noting that the Buffalo Tract Protection Act, which bears similarities to this recent proposal, has been introduced repeatedly since the 114th Congress. For nearly a decade, the legislation has not been able to secure the necessary votes to become law. This underscores the lack of consensus on the matter and calls for thoughtful deliberation rather than unilateral action. The administration’s determination to circumvent Congress and implement policies through executive action sets a troubling precedent for our industry.
“NSSGA urges policymakers to adopt a balanced approach, ensuring that while invaluable cultural and environmental resources are protected, the needs and economic viability of New Mexico and its residents aren’t compromised. In operating, NSSGA members go above and beyond state, local and federal regulations to protect the environment and local communities while delivering needed construction materials.
“We hope for an open dialogue between stakeholders and the federal government during the 90-day public comment period. NSSGA stands committed to collaborating with all parties to arrive at a solution that respects both cultural heritage and the state’s infrastructural and economic imperatives,” Stanley concluded.