Until recently, there was a spot outside of Albuquerque, the locals know it, where if drivers slowed down to 45 mph and drove just over onto the shoulder, the rumble strips played “America the Beautiful.” It was a small thing really, just a quarter mile stretch on a historic highway. Among all the bike trails around Albuquerque, this one, Route 66 into the mountains, remains one of my favorites. I loved hearing the old song’s melody, poetic in its marriage of man’s engineering, our nation’s history and an ode to our country’s wide open spaces.
The purpose behind that musical stretch was to bring joy to drivers, to the American public – a goal shared by all public lands. Everything from your local bike trail to sweeping national parks are designed to serve generations of Americans. These uniquely American spaces host families for yearly camping trips, veterans for post-war reunions, and American businesses from sea to shining sea. Sometimes, they also host energy companies, extracting natural resources on landscapes we share with wildlife and our friends and families.
I understand the need for energy companies to operate, but the current federal oil and gas leasing program is simply antiquated, broken, and requires holistic reform. In addition to bearing the cost of hundreds of abandoned wells that scar the landscape, New Mexico taxpayers are not getting a fair return on the value of these lands. Finite government resources are being wasted in the current leasing system, and we need every cent we can get in New Mexico. Most notably, the existing leasing program prioritizes development over protecting wildlife, recreation, renewable energy resources, and maintaining clean air and water. As a result, public lands have not been managed to best serve the public interest. But public lands belong to all of us, and we must again return to our responsibility for protecting them for future generations.
We are more than overdue the time to protect our communities health, wildlife, water and lands from mismanaged oil and gas drilling. Multimillion-dollar oil and gas CEOs have for too long been the recipient of sweetheart deals on public lands. In New Mexico, there were over 400 produced water spills in 2020 alone – threatening the land, the life and the freshwater of communities across our state. Living in a desert climate, we cannot afford this continued destruction while dollars leave our state.
The Biden administration was right on the mark to pause new leasing and is undertaking the first comprehensive review of the leasing program in decades. During this review, we encourage the administration to embrace a number of solutions and reforms, including: Adopting a new mandate for the program – one that recognizes leasing is not required and/or mandatory and should only be allowed if/when consistent with multiple use and sustained yield objectives and other conservation/taxpayer fairness goals. These reforms should also include closing loopholes that put cleanup costs on taxpayers and make sure corporations start fairly compensating the public with rates that reflect the cumulative costs of drilling and exploration.
I was born and raised in Albuquerque, and I’m proud to call a spot of land between the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande my home today. I earned my commercial pilot license in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Most of my flight hours have been over our Land of Enchantment, and I’ve witnessed the beyond-words beauty of this country up close and from thousands feet in the air. I urge the Biden-Harris administration to continue what it is doing and prioritize protecting public lands for the American public, keeping this great nation America, the beautiful.