Land use, energy closely connected

Over 100 years ago, when New Mexico and Arizona were first granted statehood, they both had state land offices established and were deeded land by the federal government to pay for education.

However, while Arizona was paid directly out of the revenue earned on state land, our population in New Mexico was considered too brown and uneducated to be responsible for such a large asset. So the revenue earned was put into a trust to be invested, and we could spend part of the interest earned off the fund for its beneficiaries – all dictated by the state constitution. And we have been squabbling over how to spend that money ever since.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund is probably the best known asset of the State Land Office. It’s fed by nonrenewable sources of revenue on state trust land, and I have sponsored legislation for a modest proposal to amend the state Constitution for an additional 1 percent of the interest earned to be used on universal access to early childhood education in our state.

But no one talks much about the Land Office’s other account, the Land Maintenance Fund – say what!? Yes! There is another fund! One that delivers revenue directly to the beneficiaries, without an endowment structure, and is funded by renewable sources of revenue, such as build out of renewable energy transmission on state trust land.

That fund is the reason I’m running for land commissioner.

With all of our challenges due to our climate reality: health concerns, water scarcity, massive drought and loss of our precious forests, we must use the high-profile and bully pulpit of our state’s Land Office to provide the leadership for a more sustainable land use model; one that can at the same time maximize revenue directly into our schools, universities and hospitals.

We have the potential to tap into renewable transmission lines that are currently being proposed with something known as “gen-tie lines”, developing a fee structure on the renewable kilowatts generated on state trust land to not only make our own state carbon-free but to sell to vast markets west who are every day increasing their renewable energy requirements without the accompanying capacity to generate the renewable energy they will need.

This office has been a rubber stamp for the development of extractive industry in our state; with one shining exception in our former Land Commissioner Ray Powell – who had hundreds of millions of dollars of renewable energy projects in the pipeline that his team had developed, only to be abandoned by the current officeholder. It’s time we elect someone with a real track record of standing up to powerful, monied interests like the oil and gas industry by refusing to buy into the myth that their industry is essential to our survival as a state. We need someone with a bold record of showing up and not when it’s just politically convenient.

I am that leader. With six years serving in the state Legislature and the budget committee, I have overseen the budget of the Land Office and dealt with multitude of land issues and relevant constituency groups on a state and federal level: from cattle growers and farmers, to public land access, to water issues and wildfire mitigation, to the Endangered Species Act. I have carried legislation on early childhood and renewable energy. I have stood my ground against powerful well-funded interests like the NRA, without backing down.

My name is Stephanie Garcia Richard, and I ask for your vote for land commissioner on Tuesday for a new day in New Mexico!

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