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Editorial: Land Office’s border land swap could pay dividends

Instead of pushing a bill that would disallow the use of state-owned land along the border for President Trump’s proposed wall, which is certain to lead to a confrontation with the new administration in Washington, state legislators would do themselves a favor by backing State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn’s plan to swap that marginally productive land for better land elsewhere in the state.

Dunn, a Republican, says his proposal – as outlined in a letter to the president last week – would not only “take state trust lands out of the political process,” but includes several other advantages for the state, as well: It avoids a potential confrontation with the new administration, swaps marginal Bootheel grazing land for what would likely be much better grazing land now controlled by the BLM (pleasing many of his constituent cattle ranchers) and increases the grazing fees that go into state coffers.

On the other side of the coin, Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, and other Democratic state lawmakers are supporting House Bill 292, which would bar state land from being used, sold or transferred to facilitate the construction of the new border wall.

Martinez, who said the bill is a proactive approach to Trump’s “ill-conceived idea,” makes no bones about the bill’s intent. “It’s more than a message. It’s saying, ‘You will not use state land for this purpose,'” he said.

If there’s a caveat to Dunn’s bill, it would be his inclusion of mineral rights to the land he’s willing to trade off. The swap would include more than 32,000 acres of state trust lands – and mineral rights – within three miles of the border. While we’re not aware of any mining or gas and oil drilling going on in the affected border lands, who knows what the future holds?

Oil and gas locked within shale deposits were once thought to be too expensive to recover. But new fracking and directional drilling technologies have advanced to a point that it’s now not only financially feasible to extract gas and oil, it’s created a huge spike in domestic production.

While critics like the ACLU call Trump’s plan for a border wall “a 15th century solution to a nonexistent problem” and note that a 20-foot ladder can easily defeat an 18-foot wall, Trump shows no sign of backing off. So it’s only prudent to look for ways to take the state out of the process – especially ways that could benefit New Mexico taxpayers.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.