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Biden admin issues drilling ban near Indigenous site despite tribes saying it would increase poverty

Members of Navajo Nation opposed this ban, saying it would hurt them financially.

Published: June 2, 2023 12:15pm

The Biden Administration is moving forward with issuing a 20-year ban on new oil and gas leasing near an Indigenous site in New Mexico despite the tribe's pushing back. 

In 2021, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer wrote a letter to President Biden, warning that this decision would have a "devastating impact" on tribal members who could have financial interest in that area. 

To reach a compromise, the Navajo Nation came out in support of a five-mile buffer zone floated by energy industry stakeholders.

But in a recent 15-1 vote, the Navajo Nation's resource and development committee passed a resolution which stated buffer zones would be opposed altogether.

"The Chapters recognize the detrimental economic impact to the Navajo allottees should a buffer zone of any size be imposed around Chaco Canyon," the resolution stated, according to Fox News. "If a buffer zone is adopted, the Navajo allottees who rely on the income realized from oil and gas royalties will be pushed into greater poverty."

A Biden Administration spokesperson said that this new ban is an important step forward. 

"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," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

But Haaland's involvement and possible conflict of interest has been raised as a concern, according to Fox News. Citing the Western Energy Alliance, an industry group representing producers in the area, this plan would result in Navajo members losing an estimated $194 million over the next 20 years.

"Despite her conflicts of interest, Secretary Haaland announced a withdrawal of land around Chaco that threatens the livelihoods of 5,500 Navajos near the park," Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma told Fox News Digital. "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." 

The potential conflict of interest they refer to, according to the outlet, is that Haaland is a member of a Puebloan tribe that has pushed for the buffer zone, and her daughter is a member of a New Mexico-based environmental and cultural group that has also advocated for the policy.

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