While Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has asked President Joe Biden to grant New Mexico a pass to his moratorium on federal oil and gas leases, two dozen lawmakers from her party expressed “strong support” for the temporary ban in a letter to the president Tuesday.
“I can’t speak for the governor, only that the legislators who signed this letter believe it was the right decision because it gives the state the space and encouragement to have a serious conversation about diversifying New Mexico’s economy,” Sen. Carrie Hamblen, who spearheaded the effort to write the letter, wrote in an email.
“We look forward to continuing that conversation with the governor and other state and federal partners,” added Hamblen, a Las Cruces Democrat who is the CEO and president of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce.
The letter, which was also sent to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, was signed by eight state senators and 16 state representatives, all Democrats.
The letter wasn’t signed by any Democratic leaders in either chamber.
“All Democratic legislators were offered the opportunity to join the letter,” Hamblen wrote in the email. “Out of respect for my colleagues I won’t get into individual conversations I may have had with them on this. The Democratic Party is very diverse in New Mexico, and each legislator has to make their own decisions based on their principles and what’s best for their constituents. In the end, I’m proud that more than 20 of my colleagues signed this letter with me.”
In the letter, lawmakers wrote they were committed to “a deliberate and planned transition from our overdependence on fossil fuels” to fund New Mexico’s budget priorities. They highlighted various issues, from economic diversification and the cost of orphaned wells to impacts on communities of color.
“While we recognize the significant contributions the oil and gas industry has made to New Mexico, we believe that our state’s long-term fiscal health can benefit from this federal pause and review,” they wrote.
In March, the governor took a different stance.
While Lujan Grisham praised Biden’s efforts to combat climate change, she asked the president to give New Mexico credit for actions the state already is taking to reduce pollution by the industry.
“We ask that our state-level efforts to combat climate change and ensure more responsible oil and gas development be considered and that New Mexico be granted energy transition credit as you chart a path forward on climate change and oil and gas leasing in particular,” Lujan Grisham wrote in her letter.
The governor warned New Mexico could lose nearly three-quarters of $1 billion in a matter of years with just a slight reduction of oil and gas production.
Oil and natural gas development on federal lands provides New Mexico’s budget with $1.5 billion in revenue, including $734 million to public schools, $344 million to health care and human services, and $85 million to public safety, according to Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. McEntrye was citing a study conducted in partnership with the industry group and released earlier this year.
“Anyone who claims to care about New Mexico’s future or funding for public schools should stand in opposition to the leasing ban and its destructive impacts,” McEntyre wrote in an email. “Our legislators’ time is better spent figuring out ways to grow and expand our economy rather than chop away at its most successful parts.”
Larry Behrens, director of the Western states chapter of Power the Future, a nonprofit fossil fuel advocacy group, wrote in an email lawmakers who support the Biden administration’s suspension of new leases and permits for oil and natural gas production on federal lands “need to present an alternative plan” for a huge budget cut.
“Until these legislators give up their gas-powered cars and only use 100 percent wind or solar power in their own homes, this letter is nothing more than an exercise in pathetic political hypocrisy,” wrote Behrens, who previously worked for former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.