New Mexico Republicans hit back at Democrats who supported President Joe Biden’s present ban on federal oil and gas leases, penning a letter to the federal administration warning of the damaging impact the halt had on the state’s economy.
The letter signed by all 39 New Mexico Senate and House Republicans called on Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, herself a former U.S. representative for New Mexico’s First Congressional District, to consider how the halt on new federal oil and gas leases would affect the industry – one of the state’s biggest economic drivers.
The moratorium was enacted as Biden took office and the Interior Department implemented a review of its federal leasing program with an interim report expected this month.
The review could mean royalty rates and other fees could be updated, while the federal government could also adjust the process of leasing land for oil and gas development to include more environmental requirements and adjust how it choose which lands would be available to energy companies.
New Mexico’s leaders pointed to the unique effects the move could have on their state, which relies on oil and gas operations for about 40 percent of the state’s budget while more than half of extraction activities occur on federal land.
Supporters argued the halt and review was needed action to mitigate climate change, while opponents contended it would send oil and gas development to neighboring Texas where most of the activity was on private land unencumbered by federal policy changes.
The Democrat letter, signed by 24 state representatives and senators, argued New Mexico should cultivate a renewable energy industry as a means of diversifying the state’s economy and curbing pollution.
But in the GOP’s letter sent on Thursday, the group of lawmakers said oil and gas was essential to public services like schools and infrastructure and any disruptions could devastate New Mexico.
The also called the letter of support “political grandstanding” and “lacking any intellectual consistency or veracity.”
“We cannot devastate our economy and our livelihoods by supporting a federal regulatory scheme that fails to recognize the importance of our state’s oil and gas industry, and the jobs and the revenues it generates to provide needed services for our citizens,” the letter read.
Republicans also referenced letters sent by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her cabinet expressing the state’s efforts to mitigate environmental impacts of extraction in recent rulemaking at the New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to put tougher restrictions on methane emissions.
Lujan Grisham said in the wake of the leasing ban’s implementation that she hoped the Biden administration would consider such efforts and New Mexico’s position as an oil-producing state when developing federal policy.
“Therefore, just as our Democratic governor requested in March 2021, we respectfully ask that New Mexico’s fossil fuel production and any associated federal permitting and leasing activities be exempt from all future regulatory moratoriums,” read the letter.
Leading the Democrat’s letter of support, New Mexico Sen. Carrie Hamblem (D-38), herself the chief executive officer of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, an environmental business organization, said her intention was not to disrupt oil and gas development but to begin a conversation on the state’s transition to lower-carbon sources of power.
“It’s not that we’re going to shut down oil and gas tomorrow,” Hamblen said. “The point of this letter is to start the conversation and move it forward so that we can support industries that support our communities and not harm our planet.”
But Sen. Gay Kernan (R-42), who represents the oil-rich Eddy and Lea counties in southeast New Mexico’s Permian Basin said the halt was already costing jobs throughout the state and that Democrats lacked a plan to replace the economic support afforded by the industry.
“The facts are, New Mexico’s state budget relies heavily on revenues from oil and gas, and a federal halting of leases will have a devastating impact on our economy and cost us thousands of jobs,” she said. “Despite the claims of those who wish to permanently shutter the industry, there is no plan in place to replace this revenue or these local, well-paying jobs.
“We should think long and hard before jeopardizing New Mexico’s future for the sake of hollow policies that will not have any meaningful impact on the earth’s climate.”
New Mexico Rep. Larry Scott (R-62) of Lea County said Biden’s halt was “bad policy” and was especially impacting low-income communities while driving up energy rates for New Mexicans.
“The movement to shut down oil and gas will disproportionately affect many low-income communities that make up the majority of New Mexico,” he said.
“It is time for policy makers to start telling the truth about the real impacts of this utopian ‘green energy economy’ and explain to New Mexicans where jobs will be lost, how their standard of living will decline, and why their utility bills will skyrocket.”
The Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club opened a petition on Monday in support of the halt on leasing and urging the federal government to impose limitations on extraction, pointing to alleged health impacts caused by oil and gas in the Chaco Canyon region in northwest New Mexico’s San Juan Basin and the Carlsbad area in the Permian.
The group called on New Mexicans to oppose quarterly lease sales, held by the Bureau of Land Management to auction off public land to energy companies for development.
The sales which bring millions of dollars in revenue to New Mexico were halted during the pause on new leases, with many planned sales cancelled amid the policy review.
The Sierra Club also contended the industry held up to 6,000 unused drilling permits and that most State Trust land was already leased for oil and gas and other uses.
“The Bureau of Land Management continues to sell off public lands for fracking in Greater Chaco and in southeastern New Mexico, impacting public health and safety, air, water, and cultural resources,” the petition read. “The DOI report should include much needed oil and gas reforms and end new oil and gas leasing on public lands.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.