"Today's decision just isn't enough to give our communities a fighting chance against the climate emergency," said one campaigner.
Climate and environmental protection campaigners welcomed an announcement by the Biden administration on Friday that the U.S. Interior Department is blocking new oil and gas leases in the area surrounding Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, but emphasized that the move will not undo the damage done by President Joe Biden's approval of drilling on other public lands or by years of fossil fuel extraction in the region.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that after a public comment period and decades of campaigning by Indigenous rights groups, her agency will block new oil and gas leasing on public lands within a 10-mile radius of the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.
Existing oil and gas leases on public and private lands within the 10-mile area will not be affected, and Diné C.A.R.E., a group representing Diné, or Navajo, communities affected by environmental issues, noted that the Greater Chaco Region in northwestern New Mexico is suffering the effects of oil and gas drilling, including the formation of a 2,500-square-mile methane cloud over the area.
"Protection of Chaco Canyon is a great first step, but protections for the Greater Chaco Region, where there are living communities of Diné relatives, wildlife, and plant life, including countless sacred sites throughout the region, are just as critical and should be a priority for the Biden administration," said Robyn Jackson, executive director of Diné C.A.R.E. "We cannot ignore the devastating impacts that oil and gas have on our climate, region, culture, living communities, and future generations."
Jackson called on the Biden administration to entirely phase out fossil fuel extraction, as climate scientists and energy experts have said all countries must in order to avoid planetary heating over 2°C above preindustrial levels, and "support a renewable and sustainable economy."
"We will continue to push for an end to oil and gas drilling on all public land in the U.S. so we may all enjoy a healthy, livable future in which our leaders prioritize environmental justice."
"Our Indigenous communities deserve environmental justice," she said.
The Chaco Canyon National Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and covers roughly 30,000 acres which were integral to Pueblo culture between the ninth and 13th centuries.
The Chaco Canyon Coalition, which includes Indigenous groups and has demanded protections for the park and the surrounding region for years, noted that the Interior Department's own estimates have found the administration's decision will block only a few dozen oil and gas wells, reducing natural gas production in the area by 0.5% and oil production by 2.5%.
"More than 90% of Greater Chaco is already either industrialized by oil and gas extraction or promised to industry for more drilling in the future, even as we recognize this activity's impacts on the area's communities and the climate," said attorney Ally Beasley of the Western Environmental Law Center, a member of the coalition. "We will continue to push for an end to oil and gas drilling on all public land in the U.S. so we may all enjoy a healthy, livable future in which our leaders prioritize environmental justice."
The limited protections for Chaco Canyon are "a welcome first step," said Soni Grant, New Mexico campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, on Friday. "But the Biden administration needs to follow up by ending all fossil fuel leasing on public lands and phasing out extraction."