Biden admin declares land around New Mexico cultural site off-limits to energy and mineral production

June 3, 2023
Ben Marquis

Republicans cheered the inclusion of domestic energy production permitting reform in the debt limit deal, which is indeed great news -- if there is actually any public land available for leases and the development of production projects that need federal permits.

The Biden administration announced Friday that it had imposed a 20-year moratorium on new development leases within a 10-mile radius of New Mexico's Chaco Culture National Historical Park, according to the Daily Caller.

The move is part of a broader effort by President Joe Biden's administration to place a substantial portion of federally-owned public land off-limits to new or renewed leases for the development of domestic energy and mineral production projects.

20-year moratorium on new leases imposed

According to an Interior Department press release, the 20-year moratorium -- intended to protect archeological, cultural, and historical sites in the area and first proposed in 2021 --  will block the sale of new leases on public land for oil and gas drilling as well as valuable mineral mining, but will not apply to already existing leases in the area for energy and mineral production or to land owned by state, tribal, or private entities.

The move was spearheaded by Interior Sec. Deb Haaland, a former New Mexico congresswoman who is also a member of a Native tribe in the state, who said in a statement, "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."

"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," the secretary added. "I value and appreciate the many Tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area."

The area was already effectively off-limits to new development

The release noted that the area in question had already essentially been placed off-limits to new oil and gas drilling projects for the past 10 years by the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, and a similar moratorium on new mining development was just imposed last year.

"The exceptional landscape in the Greater Chaco region has profound cultural importance," BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said. "Today’s announcement marks an important step in ensuring Indigenous voices help inform the management of our public lands. I am deeply appreciative of those who gave of their time to engage with us, and to the BLM team members who took great care to be as inclusive as possible in their engagement."

E&E News reported that the 10-mile buffer zone around the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, which itself was previously designated as a protected U.N. World Heritage Site, is home to an estimated 5,000 known archeological sites, some of which date more than 1,000 years.

Not everybody in the region is on board with the Interior's decision, however, as while some local tribes and interest groups support the protection offered by the moratorium, others, such as the Navajo Nation, opposed the ban due to the constraints it will place on its own plans to develop leases for oil and gas and mineral production that it relies upon economically.

Permitting reform amid Biden's broadening moratoriums

One of the few clear wins for Republicans in the debt limit deal negotiations was the inclusion of domestic energy production permitting reform, according to CNN.

Those reforms will significantly speed up the approval process of getting new development projects on federal land up and running by simplifying and streamlining the myriad of permits necessary from numerous different federal agencies before any construction, much less actual production, can commence.

Of course, none of that permitting reform matters if there is no federal land available to be leased for such energy and mineral production, which appears to be the goal of President Biden's administration.

According to Reuters, Biden plans to have at least 30 percent of all federally-owned lands and waters placed off-limits to leases for any sort of domestic energy or mineral production by 2030, regardless of the lost opportunities for jobs and revenue from royalties and taxes and the resultant increased reliance on the importation of more costly foreign produced vital resources.

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