Published: Thursday, 31 May 2018 20:34
By: John Olivas
In her latest missive about the state of affairs in Mora County (“Protecting Mora County from Fracking,” May 17), Commissioner Paula Garcia again attempts to rewrite history around efforts by residents to stop oil and gas drilling in Mora County. As the chairman of the Mora County commissioners during the time period about which she writes, however, my vantage point is much different.
In 2014, Mora residents began to gather to talk about the need to stop oil and gas drilling in the county. More than 30 meetings were held in which I, along with other Mora County residents, began to learn the hard fact that the oil and gas laws were written to elevate the “rights” of oil and gas companies to access Mora’s resources above the rights of residents to stop that drilling. Instead of doing what most other communities have done — surrendering to those companies by writing rules that explicitly allow those companies to drill — we decided to directly challenge the companies’ authority to override us in the first place.
Working with environmental lawyers from across the United States, we pioneered the first county law in the nation that not only banned the extraction of all hydrocarbons in Mora, but that directly challenged the authority of the oil and gas companies to challenge Mora’s authority to adopt that ban. We saw that protecting Mora’s water and land meant not only passing a ban on oil and gas extraction, but required an attack on the anti-democratic system of law that we have — one that allows those companies to legally override protective laws adopted by the residents of cities, towns, villages and counties across the United States.
As a newly emerging leader in the national movement toward advancing community rights, Mora received free help from lawyers across the country who were excited about taking a new approach — one that treated our problem not just as an oil and gas problem, but as a democracy and civil rights problem.
At every turn, Paula Garcia voted against the county law, even though she understood — as well as I did — that the problem wasn’t oil and gas, the problem was that the system of law prevented us from doing what our constituents wanted, which was to protect Mora’s water and land by banning the extraction of fossil fuels.
Paula voted against the law because she said that we had to live with the system of law that we had, even though that system guarantees that we will get drilled. She was and is a proponent for putting rules in place that regulate how oil and gas drilling will proceed, rules that, to me, seem to place county approval on the extraction itself.
I believe that we owe more than that to the place where we live. That extraction of oil and gas, no matter how tightly regulated, will eventually pollute our water and land; and the very extraction and combustion of fossil fuels will continue to exacerbate climate change.
As recognized in Paula’s article, of course, courts that have upheld corporate “rights” for the last century are the least apt to uphold new advances in the law. But that shouldn’t stop us from continuing to challenge those companies that seek to exploit us, or the courts that shield those companies from us. And if the courts won’t protect us, we must protect ourselves, perhaps by doing as other communities across the country have started to do — decriminalizing civil disobedience over these issues.
If we continue to surrender to the companies and to the courts, nothing will change. It would be as if those seeking to free the slaves or win voting rights for women simply threw in the towel after a bad court ruling.
Unfortunately, accepting our role as mere regulators of a foregone conclusion that Mora will be drilled, would be identical to that. Saying that “we need to enact legally defensible protections for Mora County” is as much a white flag as doing the drilling ourselves — it places us on our knees to a system of law that does not recognize the “we the people” of Mora, only the right of the corporations to take our resources.
As a historically colonized community, we’re used to that. But it doesn’t mean we have to accept it. It doesn’t mean that we have to continue to live on our knees.
John Olivas is former chairman of the Mora County Board of County Commissioners.
Published: Tuesday, 22 May 2018 16:49
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 22, 2018
Udall, Heinrich Introduce Legislation to Protect Chaco Canyon Area
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, a bill to withdraw the lands around Chaco Canyon from further development by the federal government. The bill would ensure the protection of Chaco ruins and the greater landscape surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park by preventing any future leasing or development of minerals owned by the U.S. government that are located within a protected radius around Chaco.
"The greater Chaco region is a New Mexico treasure. Many Tribes and Pueblos in Northern New Mexico can trace their ancestry and culture to Chaco, and consider these sites sacred,” Udall said. “But even as archeologists are making exciting new discoveries about this region, Chaco is being threatened by expanding energy development. I am proud of my work with New Mexico’s Pueblos and the Navajo Nation to craft this bill to protect this sacred, archaeological wonder. This legislation reflects hundreds of public comments, and honors New Mexico’s history and culture, recognizing that some places are just too special to lose.”
“Chaco Canyon is a sacred site that is revered by all New Mexicans and deserves to be protected from any harmful development that would damage its precious historical and cultural resources. The Chaco region holds deep meaning to New Mexico's Pueblos, whose history and traditional knowledge reside in its thousands of ancestral sites, as well as to the Navajo Nation, whose lands and communities surround much of Chaco Culture National Historical Park,” Heinrich said. “I’m proud to introduce legislation that would protect the remaining Chaco ruins and landscape nearest to the existing Park from federal mineral development. This bill is about listening to New Mexicans, and especially Tribal communities, who have called for us to protect the integrity of Chaco Canyon. We will continue to work in close collaboration with our Tribes, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to protect important cultural and religious sites in the greater Chaco region while planning for any future energy development in the San Juan Basin.”
Udall and Heinrich today held a press conference call with President of Navajo Nation Russell Begaye and Governor of Zuni Pueblo Val Panteah to announce the introduction of the bill. Audio of the call can be found HERE.
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act would withdraw minerals owned by the U.S. government from future leasing and development that are located within the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone – which surrounds the Chaco Culture National Historical Park – protecting the remaining Chaco ruins and landscape nearest the park. The bill withdraws 316,076 acres of minerals from the 909,000 acres of the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, silver and other minerals owned by the federal government. In respecting Tribal self-determination, only minerals owned by the federal government are subject to withdrawal - excluding minerals in the area that are owned by private, state, and Tribal entities.
More information on the bill can be found HERE and text of the bill can be found HERE.
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act is supported by Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, and Southwest Native Cultures. The resolution in support from APCG can be found HERE.
President of the Navajo Nation Russell Begaye said, “We are connected to these lands spiritually. The voices of our ancestors live in this area and any disturbance to this area is culturally and morally insensitive. This is why I support this initiative from Senators Udall and Heinrich to protect these lands using this bill.”
All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman and Former Governor of Isleta Pueblo E. Paul Torres said, “The International community celebrates Greater Chaco as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is time for the United States to join them in this recognition. The cultural and historical artifacts contained here are not only important to Native American Tribes, but also to all who come to learn from our past. But once this area is developed, it is gone forever. We thank Senator Udall and Senator Heinrich for their foresight and for working with Pueblo and Navajo nations on a bill to protect this beloved place.”
Governor of Zuni Pueblo Val Panteah said, "Preserving the Greater Chaco Canyon landscape is a priority for Zuni Pueblo and all 20 nations of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. For our people these sacred places are an essential connection to our past, to our culture as Pueblo people and to our ancestors that still reside in this place. The Greater Chaco landscape is the root of our great native American family-tree. It is where our ancestors built their monuments and observed the cosmos. In this place they spoke prayers on behalf of all people. And when we protect this place we honor their prayers and bless ourselves. We give thanks to Senator Udall, Senator Heinrich, the Navajo Nation and all 20 Pueblo Nations who contributed to this process. Today is a victory for all people who care about Chaco Canyon.”
Executive Director of New Mexico Wild, Mark Allison said, “Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park's official boundaries, so lease sales by BLM in the surrounding area almost always means the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat and dark skies. This bill represents a major step forward to permanently protecting the area’s rich cultural heritage, world-class archeological resources and sensitive natural landscape. We are proud to stand in solidarity with the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Navajo Nation supporting this legislation and want to express our profound thanks to Senators Udall and Heinrich for their leadership.”
New Mexico Director of the Wilderness Society, Michael Casaus said, “More leasing and drilling could destroy the Greater Chaco Landscape, and decisive action is needed to save it. Fortunately, Senators Udall and Heinrich are taking action with a bill to protect irreplaceable sacred sites and history. We deeply appreciate the efforts that our senators are making to ensure the interests of the Pueblos and Navajo Nation are permanently safeguarded through this withdrawal.”
Contacts: Ned Adriance (Udall) 202.228.6870 / Whitney Potter (Heinrich) 202.228.1578