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Opinion: Drilling ban devastating to impoverished Navajo Nation

While the Biden administration gloats that gasoline prices have trickled down during the summer, it fails to mention that declines have come after hitting all-time highs almost daily earlier this year. Although Americans have experienced slight relief at the pumps from the all-time high of $5.01 a gallon in mid-June, that relief is not being felt in natural gas prices, as evidenced in consumers’ electricity bills.

Last month, the consumer price index for electricity climbed 15.8% over the same month a year ago, the biggest such 12-month increase since 1981, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Low-income households are being affected the most, with nearly 40 percent of them falling behind a monthly energy bill payment in the last year. Nearly one-third of U.S. households said they have reduced spending on basic household necessities such as food and medicine in order to pay their soaring energy bills.

The Nationwide Vitality Help Administrators Affiliation, which represents state administrators in assisting low-income folks behind on power payments, is forecasting the highest winter heating season in a decade - a 35 percent increase to a median of $1,202 from two seasons ago. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association, primary educational and policy organization for state directors, estimates that one in six American households are already behind on their utility bills, creating the worst crisis the group has ever seen.

When asked about increasing energy costs at a recent White House news conference, President Biden blamed the war in Ukraine for affecting the liquefied-natural-gas prices but had no short-term solutions. He did extol tax credits the administration was pushing for alternative energy and efficiency.

But with winter looming, many consumers are less than thrilled over the White House push for green renewable energy and its pipeline constraints on natural-gas producers in the U.S.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan says his state has hundreds of years of supplies of gas and blames the administration for not providing the infrastructure to move it.

Instead, the administration announced last week it expected to soon finalize a rule banning oil and gas leasing in New Mexico, which is among the most fossil fuel-rich states in the nation with 9 percent of U.S. proved crude oil reserves and 6 percent of proved natural gas reserves. According to the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association, the New Mexico energy industry is responsible for about 100,000 jobs and has an economic impact of $12.8 billion per year.

The ban would amount to a withdrawal of 336,000 acres of public lands from mineral leasing within a 10-mile radius of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

There was swift reaction from local indigenous leaders, who say the administration’s rule would prevent them from collecting royalties on their land. Delora Hesuse, who represents a group of Navajo citizens who own land that has been allotted to them by the federal government for generations and is often leased to oil and gas drilling and exploration companies, says that oil companies have new technology and are not destroying the park.

Hesuse said that the Navajo community is extremely impoverished and that oil and gas revenues are critical for sustaining their economy, a point supported by Navajo citizen and landowner, Jean Armenta, who added that a number of residents lack even the basics such as electricity and running water.

Armenta and Hesuse both blame the administration for prioritizing the requests of environmentalists over indigenous people.

Others in positions of authority have joined in the opposition.

In a letter to Biden, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer stated that “the rule would have a devastating impact” while Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said in an interview that the administration talks a good talk about consulting with the tribes but when the tribes pass legislation offering a compromise, the federal government ignores it.

New Mexico Rep. Yvette Herrell charged the administration with using political gimmicks and putting up roadblocks to domestic energy innovation instead of promoting affordable, reliable, and clean energy. American families, she summarized, are the ones who will bear the burden.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.