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NM collected $479M in oil/gas royalties in ’13

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New Mexico collected $479 million in oil and gas royalties in the 2013 fiscal year, the state’s largest take in five years, the U.S. Department of Interior announced Tuesday.

The news comes on the heels of Sen. Tom Udall’s fight to prevent the department from subjecting New Mexico’s share of oil and gas revenues to the federal budget sequester.

The Obama administration had threatened to take $26 million in federal oil and gas revenues from New Mexico but backed off after the New Mexico Democrat and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, moved to block the money grab through legislation.

Nationally, the Interior Department disbursed $14.2 billion in revenue generated by energy production on public lands and offshore waters in the past fiscal year, an increase of $2 billion, or 17 percent, over the previous year. The national increase is attributed primarily to $2.77 billion in additional revenue received for new oil and gas leases in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

New Mexico, which has vast amounts of federal lands, received the second-largest disbursement of federal mineral revenues in 2013, trailing only Wyoming.

“Domestic energy production on public lands is up, and that is good news for New Mexico,” Udall said Wednesday. “These funds provide vital support for public education and other functions New Mexicans rely on.”

Challenging the NSA: Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., signed onto an amicus brief Tuesday that takes aim at National Security Agency’s bulk phone records collection program, claiming that the information could be collected through less intrusive means.

Heinrich, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, joined with Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to file the brief in the case of the First Unitarian Church vs. National Security Agency in the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Northern California.

The case was filed on behalf of 22 organizations that claim that the government’s ongoing bulk phone records collection program has violated their constitutional rights to privacy, free speech and free association.

The senators’ brief says they “have seen no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records has provided any intelligence of value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means.”

The senators warned that an overly expansive reading of the law could lead to broader surveillance practices, such as collection of financial or medical records, or even records revealing the location of ordinary Americans.

“Collecting the daily telephone activity of millions of innocent Americans is a major intrusion to our privacy rights that does little if anything to further the fight against terrorism,” Heinrich said in a statement.

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