Environmental Justice in the News: May and June 2023

May and early June of 2023 has been a very important time for news related to environmental justice issues in our region. Three significant developments are closely linked with decades of citizen activism and engagement. These news items are a mixture of victories and setbacks, reminding us why it’s so critical to continue the work to advocate on behalf of Nung Ochuu Quiyo, our Earth Mother, and to protect the most vulnerable.

Tewa Women United deeply appreciates our colleagues at Pueblo Action Alliance, YUCCA, Indigenous Lifeways, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, the Greater Chaco Coalition, and Communities for Clean Water who have been so instrumental in protecting our earth, waters, and air.

1. Historic Lawsuit Based on New Mexicans’ Rights to a “healthful and beautiful environment”

A group of organizations and individuals have come together to file a lawsuit on May 10, 2023, in the First Judicial District Court against the State of New Mexico, the state legislature, and the Governor. Plaintiffs charge that by failing to enforce pollution laws, the state is violating amendment Article XX Section 21 of the state constitution. Plaintiffs also contend that the state’s actions to allow more oil and gas production and failure to limit pollution discriminate against Indigenous people, youth, and frontline communities. The five organizations suing the state are: Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA), Pueblo Action Alliance, Indigenous Lifeways, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. They are joined as plaintiffs by members of Diné, Pueblo, and Permian Basin families.  

Learn more:

2. Secretary Deb Halaand Bans Oil Leases Around Chaco Canyon

On June 2, Deb Halaand, Secretary of the Interior Department, issued public land order 7923, withdrawing public lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for 20 years. This action was in response to decades of efforts from Tribes, elected officials, and the public to protect the sacred and historic sites and Tribal communities currently living in the Greater Chaco region. Secretary Halaand said,

“Chaco Canyon is an irreplaceable cultural masterpiece that the world deserves to learn from. It is also a living landscape for communities whose roots lie among those mesas. That’s why today, I am withdrawing the surrounding public lands from new oil and gas leasing and mining claims for 20 years.

By protecting Chaco Canyon, a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have called this place home since time immemorial, we are living up to our commitments to Indian Country.”

In response to this decision, members of the Greater Chaco Coalition called on the Biden administration to go further and end all new federal fossil fuel leasing across the country.

Learn more:

3. U.S. Supreme Court Weakens Clean Water Protections

On May 25, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on Sackett v. EPA, stripping out key protections from the Clean Water Act, weakening the law, and narrowing its ability to defend the quality of the nation’s waterways. This ruling will impact New Mexico and Indigenous communities in particularly devastating ways. Rachel Conn of Amigos Bravos noted that, “Many of our streams are small and these administrative actions have really focused on stripping away protections from smaller waterways and that’s really basically all of our waterways here in New Mexico.” New Mexico is one of only three states without a surface water quality permitting program – which could leave its wetlands with the fewest protections. 

Our colleagues at Communities for Clean Water (of which TWU is a member) issued this statement:

“Today’s ruling has embraced the extreme, decades-long demands of big polluters, putting our communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger. The Environmental Protection Agency must act to protect streams, wetlands, and other waterways to the broadest extent permitted by the Court’s decision, as soon as possible.

Our coalition of clean water advocates and Land-Based and Indigenous communities will continue to fight back against big polluters. We CANNOT let #SCOTUS’ dangerous decision in Sackett v. @EPA stop us from ensuring everyone has access to clean water.”

Learn more: