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Methane rule would benefit New Mexico

In her final State of the State address, Gov. Susana Martinez touted the job she has done to protect New Mexico’s resources. I can’t agree, and one clear example is her support of rollbacks of rules for the oil and gas industry. Gov. Martinez’s actions are actually robbing New Mexico taxpayers of millions of dollars yearly.

Consider this. On Jan. 17 – the day after the governor’s speech – new standards from the Bureau of Land Management designed to cut natural gas waste should have gone into effect. The standards were a sensible effort to reduce the $100 million worth of natural gas emissions being wasted on our public and tribal lands yearly. These measures were based on requirements already in place in neighboring states and would have meant tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue to the state budget.

Instead of protecting our energy resources, the health of our lands, and generating additional revenue, Gov. Martinez, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and the Trump administration are fighting to end these protections. Wasting natural gas belonging to New Mexico taxpayers should not be tolerated – especially since the revenue generated from oil and gas funds public education while keeping our taxpayers’ bills lower.

We need to get New Mexico’s economy back on track while taking care of the health of our lands. The current increase in oil and gas revenue could be a part of that recovery. But we need strong rules on the books to ensure New Mexicans get the full benefit of this development without creating irreversible and costly legacy issues.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association argues the release of methane, the main component of natural gas, will take care of itself through self-regulation and voluntary measures. New Mexicans know better. With New Mexico now emerging as the third-largest oil producer in the nation, we need first-rate energy regulations.

The industry rhetoric also runs completely counter to scientific studies that have consistently detected high levels of methane escaping from New Mexico’s oil and gas wells. In 2014, NASA researchers detected a massive methane hotspot over the San Juan Basin. Subsequent research determined the emissions generated from oil and gas sites were the primary cause of this methane cloud. Methane is 83 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and a major driver of climate change, which will irreparably compromise our future health and prosperity.

Rather than arguing over the need to regulate methane pollution, the oil and gas industry should be investing in New Mexico and helping to diversify our economy. The fossil fuel industry is investing in renewable energy technologies to grow its future bottom line and must make New Mexico a top priority in this effort.

The industry also needs to locate good-paying corporate jobs here and financially support our academic institutions like our world class New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology to develop more efficient and safer methods of mineral extraction. The state and industry must protect the quality of our air, water and irreplaceable cultural resources like Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

When I served as New Mexico’s land commissioner, my responsibility was to optimize revenue for New Mexico public schools, universities and hospitals while ensuring that industries that were given the opportunity to operate on state lands were operating in a responsible, transparent and honest manner.

Every year across New Mexico the oil and gas industry is wasting natural gas. If captured this resource could unlock $27 million in state funding for our schools – enough funding to provide 5,000 more New Mexico students access to quality early childhood education.

Next year we will have a new governor giving the State of the State speech, and I hope that individual will remember that nothing is more valuable to New Mexico than our children and the health of the land we leave as their legacy. Fair and reasonable methane rules are in everyone’s best interest.

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