NM schools need oil, gas revenues to reopen safely - Albuquerque Journal

NM schools need oil, gas revenues to reopen safely

March is the one-year mark of COVID-19 radically altering normal life. In the past 12 months, states instituted lockdowns, businesses closed and people stayed home to slow the pandemic’s spread and protect elderly and vulnerable loved ones. However, we cannot allow these restrictions to go on forever. As vaccine access grows by the day, it’s imperative that we get our kids back to school safely and quickly.

Some students have made an easy transition to learning from home. Many others have been disproportionally impacted, with parents who can’t work from home, unreliable internet connections, lack of in-person interaction and much more. It’s imperative we get these students back into classrooms so their learning isn’t permanently stunted.

Unfortunately, President Biden’s executive orders on climate are making this increasingly difficult. The link between schools and climate executive orders might not be immediately obvious, but if you look at New Mexico’s data, it couldn’t be clearer.

New Mexico’s K-12 public education system received more than $1 billion in funding from the oil and gas industry last year – $60,062 per teacher and $3,788 per student. A record-breaking Bureau of Land Management lease sale also generated $467 million for New Mexico, enabling a major raise for the state’s schoolteachers in 2019.

With the U.S. government owning a full 31% of land in the state, much of this energy production takes place on federal land. However, President Biden has put this domestic energy production squarely in his crosshairs. His “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” executive order has halted new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters for an indefinite period. Not only will this ban directly impact the 42,000 New Mexico residents employed by the oil and gas industry, but it will also cut off a critical funding stream for our public schools at a time when it’s needed the most.

School administrators who are already strapped for cash desperately need these energy revenues to implement safety precautions and get students back in classrooms. Everything from purchasing more personal protective equipment to expanding classroom spaces will be essential to make teachers, students and parents feel comfortable with new operations.

It’s shameful that, 12 months into a pandemic, President Biden’s first actions in office put thousands of Americans out of work and made it harder for states to bounce back to a new normal. Now our students will bear the brunt of these orders. The trickle-down effect is significant, and we can’t afford to waste any more time.

As Republicans on the House Committee on Natural Resources, we are working on all-of-the-above energy solutions that create jobs, incentivize creative approaches and innovate new technologies. Democrats’ top-down, regulatory approach only hurts Americans in the long run, including our students who haven’t had equal access to online learning.

Remote classes were fine at the start of the pandemic, as states figured out the best way to finish out the school year and keep everyone safe. We can’t allow this to become the new normal. Our students deserve better.

Energy revenue from the oil and gas industry is a reliable, proven way to get New Mexican schools critical funding to reopen safely and effectively. We hope President Biden will let us use it.

Rep. Herrell is on the Natural Resources Committee, where she’s Vice Ranking Member of the Energy & Mineral Resources Subcommittee, as well as the Oversight and Reform Committee. Rep. Westerman is ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources

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