As a retired city manager I know that New Mexico’s municipalities can always use more revenue for important needs. A big source of that funding is the taxes and royalties assessed on oil and gas development. Then why is the Trump administration pushing a proposal that will – by its own assessment – mean more waste and less revenue for New Mexico?
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has released a proposal to gut oil and gas methane waste rules that will allow for the waste of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and cost Americans over $1 billion in wasted natural gas and pollution. This rule will leave New Mexico families less funding for our schools and communities, wasted energy, and more smog pollution threatening the health of our children and seniors. It’s a bad deal. That’s probably why 74 percent of New Mexicans opposed this rollback, according to a recent Colorado College Poll.
New Mexicans should be worried that the state’s polluted air is a threat to their health. According to the American Lung Association, seven counties with 60 percent of New Mexico’s population must endure Code Orange days whereby children and adults with asthma should stay inside. But why would Eddy and San Juan counties experience nearly as many orange days on smog as Bernalillo County that has lots of people and cars?
There’s a clue in the 2014 NASA satellite that discovered that a giant methane ‘hot-spot” the size of Delaware was suspended over New Mexico’s San Juan Basin,which is one of the most productive gas fields in North America. Natural gas is composed almost entirely of methane, which explains why a series of studies have confirmed that the “hot-spot” is tied to natural gas production. Unfortunately, the industry, together with its allies in the state government, have denied the connection.
While methane itself, which is leaked, vented and flared out of oil and gas facilities, does not cause harm to one’s health, it is the pollutants that are emitted along with the methane that are the key components to smog. Smog, or ground-level ozone, can cause coughing, wheezing and throat irritation as well as asthma. The BLM’s federal methane rules would have started to protect against the health impacts related to oil and gas waste, but last month the Trump administration proposed rules that entirely gut those on the books. And what’s more, it is proposing to do this without a single public hearing.
We have until April 23 to comment and ask the administration to hold hearings and to keep these important protections in place. In fact you can visit cutmethane.com to comment.
As the federal government rolls back the rules limiting methane pollution, we will be left with the state to regulate pollution from oil and gas wells.
Consequently, I find Gov. Susana Martinez’s recent proposal to promulgate some of the nation’s weakest oil and gas air-quality standards to be very troublesome. The proposal lags behind the policies of other southwestern states such as Utah and Colorado. A letter from 23 organizations said it best: “On its way out the door, the Martinez administration is attempting to ram through a gift to the oil and gas industry – the weakest air protections in the nation.”
I hope we’ll see new leadership in the state that will take stopping oil and gas waste and pollution seriously. We are going to need it to help continue to fight these wrong-headed Trump administration policies that put taxpayers and our air in the back seat.
Thousands of New Mexicans, including dozens of elected officials from across the state, have time and again stood up for rules on methane that would protect our health, our lands and our communities. It’s long past time for Washington and Santa Fe to listen to this call.