Victory! Obama administration cancels oil and gas auction near Chaco Canyon
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Those fighting to protect New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon from dangerous oil and gas development just won a major victory. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced the cancellation of an oil and gas lease auction scheduled for October. On the table were 2,122 acres near the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that holds thousand-year-old artifacts of Navajo culture.
The Obama administration cited ongoing environmental assessments and tribal consultation as reasons for the cancellation. Since the lease sale was announced back in February, a diverse coalition of environmental and Indigenous groups have been fighting to protect the Chaco Canyon region from the dangerous and devastating impacts that fracking and burning oil and gas will have on the local environment, people and climate. In formal comments sent to the Obama administration in March, they contested the incomplete and inadequate review of the proposed oil and gas development by failing to consider the significant impacts on air quality, climate change and environmental justice for the Navajo people, among other concerns.
Public outrage against oil and gas lease development is on the rise. Approximately $33 billion worth of fossil fuel infrastructure projects, from pipelines to export terminals, have been pulled by developers or rejected by regulators since 2012. Rallies to oppose the sale of public lands and waters for fossil fuel development have taken place in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Six auctions have been either cancelled or postponed so far this year, stirring speculation about whether more public areas will be taken off the leasing block.
The Chaco Canyon region lease sale cancellation is a positive sign that the Obama administration is listening to the people’s call for no new leasing on public lands and waters to protect their communities and our planet. But President Obama can and should do much more than just cancel or postpone one lease sale at a time. A policy of no new federal fossil fuel leasing could save 100 million tons of carbon emissions every year through 2030, protect places of cultural and environmental significance like Chaco Canyon, and solidify his climate legacy. The Keep It in the Ground movement will not stop until all fossil fuels are taken off the table and kept in the ground.