WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, delivered opening remarks at a Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing on S. 1079, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, a bill he introduced with U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to withdraw the federal lands around Chaco Canyon from further mineral development.
Senator Heinrich’s legislation, S. 526, the Buffalo Tract Protection Act, to withdraw four parcels of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in southern Sandoval County, including the Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, from any mineral development, including gravel mining, is also being considered by the committee today.
Senator Heinrich's opening remarks on the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act and the Buffalo Tract Protection Act are below:
I want to thank the subcommittee for hearing two bills today on issues of importance to New Mexico.
First, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act would protect the area immediately surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historic Park from federal development of oil and natural gas.
This landscape is sacred to tribes across the southwest, and tribal leaders are united in their opposition to new development with 10 miles of the park.
And New Mexico’s governor, state land commissioner, and entire congressional delegation agree that this is the wrong place for oil and gas production.
As development in the San Juan basin moves further and further south, the air pollution, dust, and light pollution at the sacred sites within the park only increase.
And fragile historical and cultural sites outside the park boundaries are directly threatened by new wells drilled without the benefit of a cultural resource survey based on the traditional knowledge of pueblo and Navajo experts.
We cannot rush into development in a place this important and this complex.
Preventing development in the immediate surroundings of the park will protect irreplaceable cultural sites, and ensure that the Greater Chaco Landscape remains intact.
Mr. Nedd, in your testimony, you state that it would be premature for the Department of the Interior to take a position on permanent protection for this area before you complete the planning process.
If that’s the case, I hope the BLM takes the same approach to development decisions that would have a permanent impact on this landscape. If protection is premature at this time, then surely development is also premature.
I hope that the BLM’s plan will give this landscape’s irreplaceable cultural resources the protection they deserve.
Secondly, the Buffalo Tract Protection Act would withdraw four small parcels of BLM land just north of Albuquerque from mineral development. This area is already home to three gravel mines, which have negatively impacted the air and water quality of the area.
These BLM parcels act as critical connections for wildlife moving between the Sandia Mountains to the south and the Sangre de Christo Mountains to the north. These parcels also provide invaluable recreational open space in this growing area.
The two neighboring pueblos, the county, the nearest town, neighborhood associations, and local residents all agree that these parcels are not the right place for yet another gravel mine.
As demonstrated by the BLM’s testimony today, they are determined to sell the gravel resource here over the objection of all local stakeholders.
A legislative withdrawal will permanently protect the wildlife habitat and recreation resources for this community.
Thank you again to the subcommittee, and I yield back my time.