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State needs sensible methane rules

There’s a lot on the table as New Mexico moves into a new legislative session under the helm of our new governor, including several issues related to oil and gas. State leaders will be looking at ways to address climate change and the impacts on our state as well as reducing air pollution and waste of taxpayer resources through the venting and flaring of methane.

And rightfully so.

New Mexico is home to the nation’s highest concentration of methane pollution in our air, yet we are the worst in adopting policies and practices that help reduce methane emissions.

It’s no mystery to New Mexicans that the majority of state revenue is derived from the oil and gas industry, an industry that primarily benefits key public institutions such as our schools, hospitals and law enforcement agencies. But that’s also no excuse to waste taxpayers’ dollars, further accelerate climate change, put our families’ health at risk or imperil wild places that are home to our history and wildlife.

We can and should be doing more, and there are a number of efforts under way that help move us from being top of a list we should not be on – from the legislative session to the development of federal public lands management plans in places like the Permian Basin. With oil and gas continuing to be a major revenue source for the state, we must find ways to balance our economic needs with the health and safety of our air. We all must do our part to be responsible stewards of our environment, public land, and the futures of our family.

One of my commitments in the state Legislature has been to lift the voices of southern New Mexico in Santa Fe. Growing up in rural Lake Arthur, I know all too well the feeling of my community being an afterthought in Santa Fe – a low priority and a community with little to no clout in the legislative process.

I often have that same feeling today in the shadow of the oil and gas giants and lobbyists who have the financial resources and political connections to influence the very body I serve on. What I have learned over time is that when you combine facts with the demands of the public, we can hold our elected officials accountable to the voters.

Sensible methane regulation and conservation of wild places and habitat will require many stakeholders at the table. We all have to do our part, and I’m committed to doing mine and call on you to stand with me in pushing the facts forward.

We must first start with addressing methane. The state must do its part to protect the well-being of its residents and ensure that we’re not being ripped off. According to recent estimates, New Mexico is wasting up to $240 million in natural gas every year through venting, flaring and leaks, and it’s costing residents like you and me $27 million in revenue for our schools, hospitals and infrastructure. That’s unacceptable. We need the state to crack down on this waste.

New Mexico can do this by setting gas capture targets, requiring operators to measure and report flared gas, setting emission reduction requirements, minimizing emissions from pneumatic pumps and controllers, and increasing oversight and inspections of wells. With smart policies, we can begin to reduce emissions and maximize profit; who would balk at that?

On the ground in the Permian Basin, the Bureau of Land Management is considering leasing even more wild land to industry, threatening sensitive desert and cave ecosystems. Instead, BLM should be looking to protect these areas and keep them off limits to development. BLM must work with all stakeholders in a public and transparent process that protects water sources, important wildlife habitat and our air quality.

In the Pecos District, the Delaware, Pecos and Black rivers support rare and valuable riparian areas, places that we count on to hike, fish and hunt, among other outdoor recreation activities. Beneath the surface, a vast underground cave system, largely unexplored, is home to some of the world’s most incredible geologic wonders, as is evident in world-class Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Although I represent District 35 in Las Cruces, Southeast New Mexico remains my home, the place where I grew up and the place that made me who I am today.

Whether through a management plan, the state Legislature or rule making by our state governing bodies, New Mexico can and must do more when it comes to smarter policies for oil and gas development. Join me in asking the state Legislature and BLM to put people, and not corporate profits, first.

Angelica Rubio serves as vice-chair of the House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Committee.

 

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