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Congress measures conflict over drilling near sacred sites




Lawmakers ventured thousands of miles from Washington to collect testimony Monday as advocates urge members of Congress to establish greater restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling near ancient Native American cultural sites in the Southwest.


A research trip by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources culminated Monday in a public field hearing at the New Mexico Capitol.


Lawmakers were expected to hear from tribal leaders, top state officials, archaeologists and other advocates at an event led by U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Deb Haaland of New Mexico. Scheduled panelists did not include oil producers or Bureau of Land Management officials that oversee federal mineral leasing.


The House committee was exploring the possible impacts of air pollution on sacred sites. At the same time, New Mexico’s all-Democratic delegation to Washington is seeking to halt new oil and natural gas lease sales on federal holdings within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Federal lawmakers visited there Sunday.


Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has said many tribes that trace their heritage and traditions to Chaco’s ancient stone structures and avenues want to protect a broad swath of territory beyond the national park from damage by incursions by industry.


“This landscape is part of our past, our present and our future,” Santa Clara Pueblo tribal Gov. Michael Chavarria told reporters last week. “Until this area is permanently protected, we are living in a state of uncertainty and doubt.”



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