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Gov. urged to link local drilling rules to funding

LAS VEGAS, N.M. – Dozens of New Mexico legislators want the governor to link approval of state funding for projects proposed by counties and municipalities to their willingness to allow mineral extraction such as drilling for gas and oil.

A letter making the request was sent to Gov. Susana Martinez on Feb. 6. It was signed by 30 Republican members of the 70-member House of Representatives, the Las Vegas Optic reported Thursday.

Martinez will not cut projects based on a community’s oil and gas development policy, spokesman Enrique Knell said Friday. The governor wants to ensure that state funding for local projects will result in short- and long-term economic development benefits, he said.

“This simply means that we should prioritize projects that have been vetted and can be fully funded, particularly those that have strong regional or statewide importance,” he said.

The letter came as environmentalists and others are pressuring local governments to restrict drilling. Meanwhile, industry supporters are urging officials to allow extraction while citing potential tax revenue and jobs created.

The letter says the unwillingness of communities to allow drilling reduces state tax collections that pay for capital projects.

It urges Martinez to “give careful consideration to capital outlay projects located in those counties or municipalities that have voluntarily restricted the extractive industries.”

One of the signers is Hobbs Republican Donald Bratton, the House Republican leader. He told the Optic he didn’t know who drafted the letter but said it reflected his views.

Wally Drangmeister, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the group did not draft the letter.

Las Vegas environmental activist Pat Leahan said the letter sounds like “veiled blackmail” to try to undermine counties’ efforts to protect the health, safety and well-being of residents.

Las Vegas and San Miguel County, which includes Las Vegas, have had moratoriums on oil and gas exploration activities.

The county is working on an oil and gas drilling ordinance, while the Las Vegas City Council has already approved an anti-drilling ordinance. However, the status of the city ordinance is unclear because Mayor Alfonso Ortiz has refused to sign it.

Nicholas Leger, chairman of the San Miguel County Commission, said the letter concerned him, but he didn’t think it would affect the county’s efforts to develop an ordinance.

“We’re going to do what we think is best for San Miguel County as a whole in adopting an ordinance,” Leger said.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal