CARLSBAD – A New Mexico Senate bill to create a task force dedicated to diversifying the state’s economy away from its reliance on oil and gas passed on the Senate Floor on a 25-16 vote Wednesday after a debate from supporters who argued the state must expand its economy to survive.
Opponents argued that creating a task force they worried would favor the renewable energy sector over other industries, such as oil and gas, would further stymie economic development in a state already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
If ultimately passed into law, the bill would create a task force with up to 24 members, including representation from the Governor’s Office, State Land Office, state treasurer, secretary of finance and most other Cabinet-level positions.
From Fiscal Year 2022 to FY 2027, the task force would develop annual strategic plans to “transition the state economy away from reliance on natural resource extraction,” the bill read.
The group would be required to issue a report on its strategic plans by October each year to the Legislative Finance and Revenue Stabilization committees.
In its strategic plans, the task force was required to draft policies promoting new jobs to replace those in the extraction industry and diversify the state’s tax base, replacing revenue generated by oil and gas, and identifying alternative funding sources for education and hospitals.
Sponsor Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the bill was intended to protect New Mexico from the boom-and-bust cycle of the oil and gas industry, which left New Mexico in a $400 million deficit following the recent crash of fossil fuel markets created by the health crisis.
“Everybody knows we’ve been in a boom-and-bust cycle with what we have right now,” she said. “I think the public is asking us to help them diversify our economy. I hear it every day. There’s nothing in this bill that says ‘boo oil and gas.’ It says let’s work together.”
Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said New Mexico should focus on mining rare Earth metals used in such technology as cellphones and introduced an amendment to include mining as a priority in the bill.
His amendment was ultimately defeated by a floor vote, mostly along party lines.
Mining, Sharer argued, could provide a baseline of economic impact that would support New Mexico’s economy, even amid busts in the oil industry.
He said that if New Mexico opted to transition away from such extractive industries as oil and gas, and mining, the work would be done in other countries with less regulation to protect human health and the environment.
“I think what we’re saying is, as long as they do it over there, it’s OK. We don’t really care about the Chinese people,” Sharer said. “We just don’t want to see it. Let them do it over there where they don’t have … protections.”