The U.S. Government has quietly rolled out a proposal to greatly curtail oil and gas drilling in a national monument created by former President Barack Obama.
On the final day of the Obama administration in January, Vice President Joe Biden left a brief phone message for Navajo president Ben Shelly. The president couldn’t read the message as it was delivered by voicemail.
In it, Biden listed top five national monuments, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico among them. Not long after, the Bureau of Land Management confirmed that Chaco Canyon, now a celebrated American Indian archaeological site, will remain off limits to oil and gas companies.
The Obama Interior Department created the monument to protect the sacred site from being permanently changed by oil and gas drilling.
President Donald Trump’s Interior Department is scheduled to review the monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act. It will include Chaco on Trump’s list of monuments to shrink.
A proposal to greatly restrict Chaco Canyon will be reviewed. (In 2013, Interior proposed greatly restricting a protected site in Utah’s red rock country.)
The proposed changes for Chaco Canyon’s oil and gas zones are all but certain to meet bipartisan opposition, at least in Congress. Already, Democrats and some Republicans have expressed interest in debating how oil and gas leases should be modified to allow for more mining activity and other opportunities.
BLM spokeswoman Stephanie Winkler said the government decided to delay comment on the proposal for at least a year. She said BLM has not yet set a public hearing for Chaco Canyon to be considered by the Endangered Species Act.
The BLM announced the planned modifications just a few weeks after Trump made his first official visit to Utah, where he suggested that curtailing monument protections could be part of an effort to revive the nation’s beleaguered economy.
Chaco Canyon was established in the late 19th century in part as a way to suppress Indian hostility with the Spanish.