The Biden administration proposed to block of thousands of acres from future oil drilling or mining in northern New Mexico in an effort to protect Native American lands.
According to the Department of the Interior (DOI), the proposal would ban new mining claims and oil and gas development across more than 4,200 acres in Sandoval County, New Mexico, located north of Albuquerque. If finalized and implemented, the action would remain in place for up to 50 years.
“Today we’re responding to call from Tribes, elected leaders, and community members who want to see these public lands protected,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing more from the public to inform decisions about how activities, like gravel mining, may impact these lands, including the important cultural and natural resources.”
“We recognize the importance of the Placitas area, both for Tribal Nations and for the local community who visit and recreate in this area,” added Melanie Barnes, the state director of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) New Mexico office.
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In its proposal, the BLM stated that the action was designed to “protect, preserve, and promote the scenic integrity, cultural importance, recreational values, and wildlife habitat connectivity” in the region.
The DOI said the Pueblo tribes of San Felipe and Santa Ana have previously advocated for protections in the area which contains archeological resources from hundreds of years ago. The area is also popular for hiking, camping, sightseeing and hunting.
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In 2019, Haaland, who at the time served in Congress and as vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Buffalo Tract Protection Act which would mimic the actions taken Monday. At the time, Haaland said residents and tribal citizens in the region bear the brunt of pollution produced from the area’s many mines.
Earlier this year, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., reintroduced the legislation. The pair have also repeatedly called on the DOI to take action blocking mineral development in Sandoval County.
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“It is time we put an end to this years-long debate and withdraw these parcels from future mineral development,” Heinrich said during a March event in Albuquerque alongside Stansbury.
Using information available from the BLM, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report on the Buffalo Tract Protection Act in August concluding that the area impacted by the mineral ban has high potential for sand and gravel extraction and minimal potential for development of other minerals. Sand and gravel extraction is key for various infrastructure projects like roads.
The report projected the land withdrawal would result in a decrease of $2 million in federal revenue.