The COVID-19 crisis is having a dramatic health and financial impact on all of us. We will all feel the effects of this pandemic for years to come, but few will feel it more than our families in rural communities, specifically those people who are now out of work or underemployed as a result. It’s this fact that has kept me up at night in recent weeks, and it’s the reason I chose to write this.
As the leader of the New Mexico Building & Construction Trades Council, the largest labor coalition in the state, my focus has always been to protect workers’ rights and to bring economic and job opportunities to every corner of this state.
Times like these are a reminder that our state needs be more proactive about building financial resiliency and diversifying the economic engines of our rural communities so that they can overcome any sudden challenges, like COVID-19 and industry disruptions, that will come our way again.
Our oil and gas industry, a vital employer for thousands of my members across the state, has been one of the hardest hit by this global crisis. This is just one of the many reasons that we need to invest more heavily in sectors that complement oil and gas to provide a financial safety net for our state and our residents going forward.
Our leaders can protect residents and workers in their communities by advancing the growth of hardy industries — like wind, solar and renewable transmission — industries that will be reliable, limitless income generators and job creators for years to come. New Mexico has some of the best wind and solar resources in the entire country, and our rural communities especially deserve the opportunities both will create.
When this crisis is over, how can investing in renewable energy development safeguard our rural communities from economic setbacks? Take for instance the proposed Western Spirit Transmission Project, a renewable energy transmission line that will propel billions of dollars of wind power from our ranches in Eastern New Mexico across the state. This project will employ hundreds of rural workers, from electricians to excavators, and generate billions of dollars in tax revenue directly to the six rural counties it crosses.
The line is a prime example of an infrastructure project that can strengthen our rural economies and provide economic security and stability to our families in the form of higher-paying and dependable employment. Beyond job creation, which will be critical as we emerge from this pandemic, the project will also inject millions of dollars into multiple rural school systems that desperately need the funds.
As terrible as the COVID-19 crisis is, it is shining a bright light on areas where our state and local leaders can make positive changes to better prepare for the future. I urge our community leaders and residents to support our growing renewable industry and to push for more project development — like the Western Spirit Transmission line — to create jobs and financial security in their local communities. If we can move infrastructure projects forward, we can begin to rebuild New Mexico and bounce back from this crisis to become stronger than ever.