Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 8, 2022

Sacred Lands are Sacrifice Zones in Biden's Climate Chaos

“Energy Sacrifice Zone” sign near Counselor, New Mexico, in the Greater Chaco region. Credit: Jimmy Cloutier/Howard Center for Investigative Journalism

“We Can’t Frack Our Way to a Safe Climate” — Frontline Groups Slam Inflation Reduction Act 

As communities call for Biden to declare climate emergency, Greater Chaco Coalition and allies issue statements decrying oil and gas handouts that will only serve to perpetuate sacrifice zones and climate chaos

Contact: Mario Atencio, Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment,   

Julia Bernal, Pueblo Action Alliance

Rebecca Sobel, WildEarth Guardians

August 8, 2022

French translation for Censored News by Christine Prat

FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO — In tying clean energy, climate, and environmental justice investments to the perpetuation of the federal fossil fuels leasing program, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) guarantees continued sacrifice of more sacred landscapes like the Greater Chaco region and threatens to undo any climate action progress it makes.

By holding hostage $369 billion in energy and climate investments to leasing 2 million acres of public lands and 60 million acres of public waters for fracking each year for the next decade, the Inflation Reduction Act, as written, tethers the promise of climate solutions to a sentence of climate catastrophe.

Already, over 91% of available lands in the Greater Chaco landscape are leased for extraction, as frontline and Indigenous communities in the region endure decades of overlapping dirty energy projects that have negatively impacted public health, air, land, water, climate, and cultural resources.

Since 2015, Greater Chaco Coalition members have delivered nearly two million public comments to the Bureau of Land Management calling for an immediate moratorium on oil and gas leasing and drilling on public lands throughout the region.

While President Biden has yet to follow through with his campaign promise to end new federal fossil fuel drilling, Senator Manchin intends to introduce legislation that would expedite oil and gas permit approvals, gutting the National Environmental Policy Act and paving the way for even more new fossil fuel projects to be approved in the face of massive public opposition and climate science.

Recently, 369 groups who sent a letter as frontline leaders, climate advocates, and climate champions in Congress, including Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), held a press conference calling for the President to use his executive authority to declare a climate emergency, reject new fossil fuels projects, and speed up funding for renewable energy development.

Last Monday, an Indigenous-led delegation and allies blockaded the streets surrounding the Department of the Interior in Washington, DC, painting ‘CLIMATE EMERGENCY’ in front of the building. 

New Mexico received $1.1 billion last year from mineral leasing on federal lands, more than any other US state, directly undermining efforts needed to halve greenhouse gas emissions this decade. New Mexico is the fastest-warming and most water-stressed state in the continental United States, where historic wildfires have recently devoured forests, flattened communities, and are now causing unprecedented flooding and mudslides. New Mexico is now the second largest oil producer in the country, with over 60,000 oil and gas wells, but it remains one of the poorest states in the nation with the worst public education and the highest rates of childhood poverty and hunger. 

Multiple analyses show climate pollution from existing fossil fuel production, and emissions from oil and gas leasing on public lands, will push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, more than any provision in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Statement from Greater Chaco Coalition:

Continued oil and gas leasing and drilling will devastate communities and the climate in New Mexico. In the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico, the vast majority of available lands are already leased for extraction, with over 40,000 oil and gas wells dotting the landscape. Meanwhile, oil and gas extraction is so extensive in southeastern New Mexico’s Permian Basin that the region has been described as a climate bomb

New Mexico continues to be treated like a resource colony, with our communities designated as official energy sacrifice zones, even after the Biden administration acknowledged the climate impacts of drilling. Indigenous, Black, Brown, and low-income communities are most at risk from the public health, safety, and climate impacts of expanded fossil fuel extraction in New Mexico and across the country.

It is well established that avoiding catastrophic global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius requires ending new investments in fossil fuels, and investing in just transitions. Representing environmental justice groups and communities from across the state, the Greater Chaco Coalition stands firmly against the poison pill provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, calling for amendments that remove giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, including the prerequisite for oil and gas leasing for solar or wind energy development on federal lands, and tax incentives for false solutions like hydrogen produced from fossil fuels and carbon capture and sequestration.  We don’t have time to waste on distractions. 

Simply put: We can’t frack our way to a safe climate. 

Additional Statements:

“Yaa' Yaadilah!! Frontline Diné communities in the Greater Chaco region who are directly impacted by extraction were not even given a heads up about this bill. Meanwhile, the funds and royalties that the bill generates will go to federal and state coffers, unlikely to change the conditions we experience in Indigenous homelands and communities of color, which have been turned into national sacrifice areas. In buttressing the oil and gas industry and selling out frontline communities, the Inflation Reduction Act continues legacies of genocide, colonialism, and apartheid instead of building towards the just and sustainable future we need. Our communities voted for this Administration with thoughts and hopes that we are in a new day. The Inflation Reduction Act shows that this is business as usual.”

  • Daniel Tso, Navajo Nation Council Delegate and Chair of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee of the 24th Navajo Nation Council 

“The horse trading of Diné community health for millions of acres of new fracked oil and gas wells by the US government is most disappointing.  We were promised a new era of tribally led consultation, but nothing has changed as congressional overlords continue to sell Indigenous people down the river for the sake of energy special interests.  The Greater Chaco Landscape continues to be sacrificed to oil and gas full bore, and all promises have been broken.”

  • Mario Atencio, Greater Chaco Energy Organizer for Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment 

“In 2022, we are still having to fight our US Government to protect our homeland. At this pace, we will never have respite amidst this continued extraction.” 

  • Samuel Sage, Counselor Chapter Community Services Coordinator, Board Vice-President for Dine CARE.

“New Mexico has historically been at the forefront of colonial extractive industries since the origin of this country. The legacy of extractive colonialism has long hindered Indigenous and frontline communities that continue to be sacrificed in the name of energy innovation. The Inflation Reduction Act as written is just a continuum of the fossil fuel and extractive industries that only look to market-based solutions to mitigate climate change. False solutions like carbon capture and storage, hydrogen production, net zero, and cap and trade,  are all energy investments that will continue to destroy and harm our environments globally.  WE NEED REAL AND TRUE SOLUTIONS TO MITIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE! Declare a climate emergency! No more leasing! No False Solutions!”

  • Pueblo Action Alliance

“If a genuine goal of this legislation was emissions reductions - the bill would have eliminated oil and gas leasing rather than mandating it. THAT is what would have helped instead of harmed our communities already suffering from decades of federal fossil-fuel pollution. Instead of keeping fossil fuels in the ground and investing instead in renewables and storage, this bill ties us to more of the same - protecting an industry marching us down a path of climate catastrophe.” 

  • Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo, Policy Lead at Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA)

“Protecting our land, air and Sacred water was a key component to President Joe Biden’s election campaign.  To date we have not seen him live up to that promise.   We continue to see more oil and gas development for the future, not now.  Any new leasing affects future oil and gas and production, a time when we will be beyond its need. The Biden Administration must stop oil and gas extraction in our New Mexico Sacrifice Zone, on our Sacred Chaco Canyon lands and greater region, 40,000 plus wells is enough.  Northwestern New Mexico is becoming an Environmental Wasteland. Where is the money that is going to CLEAN it up???  Where is the Environmental Justice, for Indigenous Peoples, the local communities and the Seven Generations ahead? Invest in a real renewable energy future. President Biden, please live up to your promises.”  

  • Terry A. Sloan, Director, Southwest Native Cultures.  

“Like New Mexico, Oklahoma is situated on the frontlines of the climate crisis & fossil fuel extraction. We don’t have the luxury of accepting half-measures or negotiations when our people are already dying. We don’t have democratic leadership to fight for us.  We are depending on REAL & meaningful action on climate - action that we haven’t seen. And with Congress applauding their vote to turn communities like mine into sacrifice zones through the Inflation Reduction Act, the imperative is now squarely on Joe Biden to do what’s right, to unleash his executive authority, and to declare a climate emergency.” 

  • Ash, ikiyA collective

"This backdoor dealing and wheeling, using Indigenous communities as sacrifice zones for the expansion of fossil fuel development while pushing out false solutions to climate change like hydrogen, carbon capture and sequestration, forest and agriculture offsets and nuclear power must stop. Our peoples have already faced mass genocide due to capitalistic greed and colonialism. We will not sit idly by and let that happen again. This is not a climate bill. It is a bill for the expansion of oil and gas and hijacking of the just transition away from fossil fuels.”

  • Joye Braun, National Pipelines Organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network

“Fossil fuel barons will not be the harbingers of climate leadership. New Mexicans and frontline communities across the world deserve better. Continued sacrifice of our land, air, and water cannot be done in the name of climate action.” 

  • Rebecca Sobel, Organizing Director for WildEarth Guardians

“Manchin’s Inflation Reduction Act delivers a slew of gifts to the fossil fuel industry but little in the way of real climate action. By requiring new drilling operations on federal lands and extending the life of fossil fuel extraction with scams like carbon capture, the IRA is set to ruin New Mexico's chance for a livable future.”

  • Jorge Aguilar, Southern Region Director for Food & Water Watch

“Holding renewable energy hostage to more oil and gas expansion is incoherent climate policy. Pollution from the world’s already-producing fossil fuels, if fully developed, would push the climate past dangerous tipping points and worsen climate catastrophes. Frontline communities will continue to pay the steepest price. We can’t keep burning more fossil fuels and expect to have a livable planet.”

  • Taylor McKinnon, senior campaigner at Center for Biological Diversity

“We can’t address the climate crisis by sacrificing frontline communities. With the largest wildfires in New Mexico history and the Rio Grande running dry, New Mexicans are already experiencing the climate emergency. Expanding fossil fuel production, leasing public lands, and pushing false solutions such as fossil fuel hydrogen and carbon offsets harms our communities. Our children are counting on us to push for a just transition and loosen the stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry over our political systems.” 

  • Anni Hanna, Director New Mexico Climate Justice 

“We can’t build back a future banking on the same ‘oilgarchs’ who caused the climate crisis in the first place. We cannot expand fossil fuel drilling as a prerequisite for solar and wind development. We cannot use Orwellian language to describe clean energy as nuclear, hydrogen and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). We cannot fast track permitting that threatens our survival; this ensures the likelihood of poisons contaminating our land, water, and air.” 

  • Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director at New Energy Economy

The Inflation Reduction Act is a stark example of the naked corruption of government in Washington D.C. The continued ability of the fossil fuel corporations to buy their way into business as usual in the face of accelerating climate catastrophe is alarming and depressing. Is it good that the IRA passed the Senate? Yes. Is it an insult to frontline communities? Yes. As climate activists, we will continue to oppose any expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, including the proposed fossil hydrogen hubs here in New Mexico." 

    - Tom Solomon and Jim Mackenzie, co-coordinators, 350 New Mexico

“The Inflation Reduction Act sacrifices frontline communities in New Mexico, Alaska, the Gulf Coast, Appalachia, and across the country by doubling down on deadly subsidies to fossil fuels and opening the floodgates to fossil fuel expansion. Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer’s disastrous ‘permitting reform’ side deal would add insult to injury and must be stopped.”

  • Collin Rees, United States Program Manager at Oil Change International

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