For so many students, there are already myriad hurdles to get over before reaching the finish line and receiving a quality education in New Mexico. Yet with President Joe Biden’s desire to change federal leasing rules, we can add one more hurdle — to the race ahead of them. If the Biden administration continues to push for a permanent ban of public land leasing, students will suffer greatly.

New Mexico has long depended on the revenue collected from federal leasing. A New Mexico Oil and Gas Association analysis of state revenue and spending reveals that oil and natural gas production and development on federal lands in New Mexico accounted for $1.5 billion in revenue and 18 percent of total state spending in fiscal year 2020. According to this same analysis, these revenues provided the state with $734 million in resources for public schools and education, $344 million for health and human services, and nearly $85 million for public safety, in addition to other spending.

Now more than ever, a lack of funding puts schools at a great disadvantage. After the past 15 months of unforeseen circumstances due to the pandemic, schools are still trying to get back on their feet.

On top of the already-large need for increased school funding across the United States, New Mexico specifically falls on the lower end of the spectrum in regards to per-pupil spending. Without the usual revenue from federal leasing, the state of New Mexico will be forced to sacrifice funding for public schools. The Biden policy shift would slash any hope of reaching adequate funding for students.

The oil and gas industry also plays a critical role in creating jobs and boosting local economies in New Mexico. In fact, the state’s oil and gas industry supports 134,000 well-paying jobs. If Biden banned federal leasing today, New Mexico stands to lose more than 62,000 jobs by 2022, according to a report from the American Petroleum Industry. The very livelihood of these students’ families and the health of their home lives are at stake.

This federal leasing policy is fundamentally counterproductive to any movement fighting climate change. A recent analysis, also by API, found a ban on federal leasing would force U.S. consumers right back to coal use. Coal use would increase 15 percent by 2030, and as a more carbon-intensive fuel, we would see all the efforts made by this nation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions washed away.

In a crucial time when our public school systems need support, a blow like this would create repercussions for years in states like New Mexico that rely so heavily on this leasing income. Nobody is questioning the president’s urgency to address climate change and our nation’s emissions, but we can’t implement policies that pick winners and losers and put jobs, students and the future of New Mexico in the cross hairs. If you care about students, you care about this.

Annalisa Miller, of Union County, is a graduate of New Mexico State University and a student at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

(1) comment

Bruce Taylor

Annalisa Miller, everything that you said about leasing permits on Federal lands for oil/gas exploration/exploitation is true. AND the climate emergency now facing all of us doesn't care how "right" we are on the costs of climate change mitigation, abatement, bio-system resiliency. The costs to the New Mexico economy of the long-term effects of climate-change-caused drought will very likely exceed those of fees and jobs attributable to oil/gas development. The immediate and regionalized impact of methane, and the long-term, more global impact of carbon from fossil-fuel burning in all its uses is far greater. There are no easy answers, but by far the most expensive and dangerous answer is to do anything that further encourage oil/gas development. That era is now over, and the era of recovery of earth systems to a sustainable, circular and regenerative economy is a personal, home, local and global requirement. And what we have assumed to be a continuation of the past will no longer be so. No one dares really address the need to "reinvent" society. It has been done before. It is not easy nor pain-free. But it begins now. Protecting the oil/gas industry that, with coal, got us to this moment will not be the answer.

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