ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A small group of New Mexico lawmakers is supporting the Biden administration’s pause and review of federal oil and gas lease sales, saying they are committed to moving away from the state's over-dependence on fossil fuels.
The group of 24 Democrats sent a letter Tuesday to the president and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The lawmakers wrote that planning for economic diversification and reducing the volatility of the industry's boom-and-bust cycles on the state's budget is in the best interest of pursuing priorities such as education and health care.
They also took aim at federal royalties and rents, saying the system is outdated.
“As the state’s appropriators, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that we are appropriately charging for the benefit of extracting resources from our public lands so that New Mexicans receive a fair and true market value for these resources,” the letter read.
The letter-writing effort was spearheaded by state Sen. Carrie Hamblen, who leads the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce.
Democratic legislative leaders were not among those who signed on, and those who did represent urban districts far from the state's oil and gas patches.
The majority of New Mexico lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are walking a more conservative line given the industry’s significant role in funding state government and its effects on those corners of the state where the industry supports tens of thousands of jobs.
House Republican Leader Rep. Jim Townsend called the letter irresponsible, saying it failed to offer any concrete plans to protect New Mexico jobs and state revenues.
Citing statistics that place the state at the bottom when it comes to educational outcomes and families living in poverty, Townsend said there has to be a plan for transitioning to other energy sources so the state isn't left in worse shape. He said ceasing oil and gas operations in New Mexico would only drive investments and jobs elsewhere.
"It just doesn't make any sense. There's no reason for this other than it's an ideological mantra of that party right now to say we're all against fossil fuels,” he said.
Lujan Grisham warned in a letter to President Joe Biden in March that New Mexico could lose nearly three-quarters of $1 billion over the next few years if it sees even a modest reduction of oil and gas production because of the federal government’s actions to curb leasing on public lands.
The governor has said that financial losses of that magnitude would affect her administration’s ability to achieve goals like universal access to early childhood education.
Legislative analysts earlier this year noted that the recovery in oil prices and production accounted for about 75% of the increase in expected general fund dollars for the state.
"Our legislators’ time is better spent figuring out ways to grow and expand our economy rather than chop away at its most successful parts," said Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
McEntyre said development on federal lands alone accounts for $1.5 billion — or nearly 20% — of New Mexico’s budget. The concern, he said, is the chilling effect Biden's policies will have on future investments and production and ultimately state revenue.
“As the industry and other parts of the economy recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, leasing bans and other regulatory hurdles only insure that New Mexico’s rebound is uneven and inconsistent with the neighboring states who do not share our economic characteristics,” he said.