NM GOP leaders slam Oil and Gas Association

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The Navajo Refining Co. in Artesia is one of many oil and gas sites in New Mexico, which relies on revenues from the industry. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Three of New Mexico’s top Republicans lashed out at the state Oil and Gas Association in an opinion column this week, exposing a rift between two organizations that normally work well together on state energy policies and politics.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small

The frustration burst into view after the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association’s executive director, Ryan Flynn, described U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small last week as a strong advocate for New Mexico’s energy interests and as someone who has “stood up to those in her party who want to completely ban fracking.”

The favorable comments about the New Mexico Democrat, reported by The Associated Press, drew harsh criticism in a column by state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce and the Republican floor leaders in the Legislature, Rep. James Townsend of Artesia and Sen. Stuart Ingle of Portales. The column was published Sunday in the Albuquerque Journal.

The three Republican leaders accused the Oil and Gas Association of acting as a “political weapon” in the race for the 2nd Congressional District – in which Torres Small faces Republican Yvette Herrell, a former state representative – and levied broader attacks on the work of Flynn, the group’s executive director.

In an interview Monday, Pearce, a former U.S. representative who worked in the oil industry, said flatly that the association should fire Flynn and hire someone else. He accused Flynn of falsely painting Torres Small as an ally of oil and gas, and trying to curry favor with people in power.

Yvette Herrell

“Watching the games that get played,” Pearce said Monday, “I felt that we needed to call the association and Mr. Flynn out.”

Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the Oil and Gas Association, said Monday that Flynn’s comments on Torres Small simply reflected the group’s “experience working with her and her office, and her engagement with the oil and gas industry.”

The association, McEntyre said, is nonpartisan and doesn’t endorse candidates.

In a written statement, Flynn said Monday that Torres Small “understands the important role that the oil and gas industry plays in New Mexico.”

But he also said Herrell had “demonstrated a favorable record during her service in the Roundhouse” – a reference to her eight years as a state legislator.

Flynn has led the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association since 2016. He served as environment secretary in the Republican administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez.

The association lobbies on behalf of the oil and gas industry. It, or an affiliated committee, has made donations over the past year to Republican and Democratic campaigns, including a $25,000 contribution to a fund run by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, according to state records.

Tense campaign

The race to represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District is expected to be one of the most competitive in the country this year.

Torres Small narrowly won the southern New Mexico district in 2018, defeating Herrell by less than 2 percentage points. The district had been held by Pearce for 14 of the 16 years before that.

In the op-ed published Sunday, the GOP leaders targeted Torres Small, claiming she had voted in favor of a fracking ban.

But the vote cited by the state GOP wasn’t a proposal to ban fracking, and Torres Small has said repeatedly that she would oppose such a ban.

Instead, the vote highlighted in the Republican column was a procedural motion considered in February. The motion called for the House to take up a nonbinding resolution to express opposition to any fracking ban by a future president.

Torres Small joined with Democrats to defeat the Republican motion and avoid taking up the measure.

Nonetheless, Torres Small has repeatedly expressed opposition to a fracking ban, including legislation proposed by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“I have consistently spoken out against a ban on fracking,” Torres Small said Monday, “and my record backs that up. Here in southern New Mexico, we know that if we shut down oil and gas today, we’ll have to shut down our schools tomorrow.”

Pearce said his column’s description of the vote is fair. The motion, he said, was a way for the minority party – Republicans, in this case – to move the legislation forward and allow future consideration of the resolution opposing a unilateral ban on fracking.

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