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Senators: Buffer needed near Chaco national park

A pumpjack on the Eunice Highway is silhouetted against a dramatic orange and yellow horizon as the sun sets behind it.

Senators: Buffer needed near Chaco national park

Two U.S. senators say the area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park represents the “cultural heart” of Native American tribes from around the Southwest and should be protected from encroaching oil and gas development.

Democrats Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico announced legislation Tuesday to withdraw nearly 500 square miles (1,295 square kilometers) of federal land from the mineral leasing rolls.

The measure would effectively make permanent a 10-mile buffer the Bureau of Land Management has imposed around Chaco park for years.

While the fate of the bill is uncertain, Udall says supporters also plan to ask the Trump administration to withdraw the land through administrative action.

Oil and gas interests say federal law already requires extensive environmental and cultural reviews and that operators have been able to drill and protect cultural treasures in the San Juan Basin.

Environmentalists have long complained about pollution from fossil fuel extraction and coal-fired power plants in the region, and tribal leaders have joined in with concerns about the effects on cultural resources.