DENVER -- Western Energy Alliance today applauded the Navajo Nation’s vote to reject any buffer around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) plan to withdraw 351,000 acres from oil and natural gas leasing because it would cost Navajo members with allotted property rights an estimated $194 million over the next 20 years. The Navajo Nation withdrew its previous five-mile buffer resolution after DOI failed to even consider the tribe’s compromise alternative to a proposed ten-mile buffer.
In the resolution, the Standing Committee of the 25th Navajo Nation Council states, “If the buffer zone is adopted, the Navajo allottees who rely on the income realized from oil and natural gas royalties will be pushed into greater poverty.” The Council notes the “detrimental impact to Navajo Nation allottees by preventing the development of new oil and gas resources on allotments as a result of the allotments being landlocked,” exposing the fallacy from DOI that the withdrawal will not impact Navajo lands.
“Sec. Haaland and Interior Department officials have grossly mismanaged the land withdrawal process since first announcing it in 2021. They have failed to hold adequate tribal consultations and listen to the voices of the Navajo Nation in the immediate vicinity of Chaco while giving preference to Sec. Haaland’s and related Puebloan tribes hundreds of miles away. Interior has exhibited a lack of environmental justice as they work internally to advance this ill-conceived proposal,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Alliance. “Recent congressional testimony by Sec. Haaland displayed her lack of understanding of the massive cost to a disadvantaged Native American community. She was unable to answer questions about the costs of foregone oil and natural gas royalties to tribal members. And despite her claims that the energy rights of Navajos would be protected she was unable to guarantee access to those minerals. What good are rights if Interior isolates your lands and you can’t access your resources?”
In addition to Interior’s procedural problems, Sec. Haaland has several conflicts of interest when it comes to plans to create a buffer around Chaco Canyon. In a recent letter to lawmakers in Congress, the Alliance pointed out the secretary’s deep connections to a climate activist group in New Mexico lobbying the agency on the withdrawal. Sec. Haaland’s daughter works for the Pueblo Action Alliance, an organization that helped coordinate a violent anti-oil-and-gas protest at Interior headquarters and has aggressively lobbied DOI and Congress to advance the Chaco withdrawal.
“Can you imagine if President Trump’s Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had a son who lobbied him on behalf of Western Energy Alliance to increase leasing around Chaco? It would have been unacceptable and rightfully criticized. Sec. Haaland’s situation is no different and probably worse, since over 5,000 Navajos stand to lose millions of dollars in income every year if the withdrawal is approved. The situation is a violation of ethics rules and the Interior Secretary’s trust responsibility to the tribe.”
# # #