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The Biden administration has made one of its first environmental actions regarding the expansion of oil and gas drilling in the American Southwest around the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. This move has been applauded by environmental activists and the Indigenous community that has long fought against fossil fuel energy projects that impact their sacred lands. The administration’s decision was based on an executive order that prioritizes protection of national parks and other sacred places, as well as a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Chaco Canyon is a site of immense cultural and archaeological significance for the Puebloan people of the Southwest. Spread over more than 34,000 acres, it contains 13 ancient Puebloan communities that are over 1,000 years old, with evidence of highly advanced astronomical knowledge, social organization, and religious practices. As such, it has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
The area has been at the center of controversy due to the expansion of oil and gas drilling. The region is home to the Greater Chaco Landscape, which consists of over 2 million acres of land in New Mexico. A study by the Wilderness Society found that the impact of drilling activities on the area’s ecology and archaeology has been severe, including habitat loss, soil erosion, and damage to ancient roads and structures. Many Indigenous communities in the region have voiced concerns about the impact on their water resources, which are already scarce due to the arid climate.
The Obama administration had first implemented temporary protections around Chaco Canyon in 2016. However, the Trump administration rolled back many of these protections, leading to an increase in drilling permits. During Trump’s tenure, almost 4,000 new wells were approved for development. The administration’s disregard for environmental consequences and the cultural impact on Indigenous communities was condemned by many, including the Puebloans of New Mexico.
The Biden administration’s decision to ban oil and gas drilling around Chaco Canyon is a welcome reversal of these policies and the first of many actions that are expected to support renewable energy development in the future. It’s an example of how environmental protection and cultural responsibility can go hand in hand. However, it’s not just about protecting the natural and cultural heritage of the region but also protecting its inhabitants.
There are about 35,000 people living in the Greater Chaco region, many belonging to Indigenous communities, including the Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo people. These communities have long suffered from the negative effects of fossil fuel development, including air and water pollution. They depend on the land for their daily sustenance, making their wellbeing closely linked to the health of the environment. The Biden administration recognizes this and has committed to working with these groups and ensuring their voices are heard.
This decision is also an indication of the administration’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), limiting global warming to under 1.5℃ would require reducing carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. While it will take substantive efforts across multiple sectors to achieve this ambitious goal, the U.S. can make a significant impact by transitioning to renewable energy sources and investing in public transportation and green infrastructure.
The ban on drilling around Chaco Canyon is not just an isolated decision, but an aspect of a larger plan for a cleaner energy future. The Biden administration’s proposal to invest $2 trillion in green energy over the next four years includes initiatives such as expanding wind and solar power, improving energy efficiency, and transitioning to electric vehicles. This plan is expected to generate millions of jobs across the country and set the U.S. on a path towards a sustainable future.
In conclusion, the Biden administration’s decision to ban oil and gas drilling around Chaco Canyon is part of a long-overdue reversal of harmful environmental policies that have long been detrimental to Indigenous communities and the environment. It underscores the importance of environmental protection and cultural responsibility and is indicative of the administration’s commitment to its ambitious climatic goals. The impact of this decision will reverberate throughout the region and the world, setting the U.S. on a path towards a cleaner, more sustainable future.