New Mexico is blessed with a wealth of traditional fuels, mineral, and renewable energy resources, from substantial oil and natural gas reserves, abundant sunshine and wind to a significant portion of America’s uranium reserves.

When we embrace all that our state has to offer, New Mexicans benefit on several critical economic fronts that enhance our financial health. Among them: lower utility bills and high-paying energy jobs plus lower tax rates and enhanced community services as energy-related revenues boost state and municipal coffers. In the age of COVID-19, this is good news for small businesses and industries as well as families, especially low-income households.

Here’s the bad news. If adopted, a threatened ban on oil and gas leasing on federal land would have an immediate and devastating impact on New Mexicans’ lives and livelihoods. Consider that thanks to oil and gas, energy production funds nearly one-third of our state’s economy. And for over 100,000 New Mexicans with energy-related jobs, their average annual salary is $72,505 — more than $25,000 higher than the average salary in the state.

This November, oil and gas leasing is on the ballot. If such leasing is phased out as promised in the Democratic platform, New Mexico would be the big loser. Nearly half of the state’s oil and gas production occurs on federal land. The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association figures such a ban would cost the state 62,000 jobs by 2021 and more than $1 billion in federal revenue.

Higher natural gas prices that almost certainly would follow a ban will hurt New Mexicans in their pocketbooks. And from 2006-16, as natural gas supplies grew and prices declined, New Mexico families and businesses saved more than $3.4 billion.

As for the high-paying energy jobs that would be threatened or lost, roughly 27 percent of the top 40 highest-paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree are related to the energy industry. Among them: power distributors and dispatchers with a median annual wage of $81,900; powerhouse electrical and electronics repairers, $75,670; power plant operators, $74,690; electrical power-line installers and repairers, $68,010; and gas plant operators, $67,580.

We all favor efforts to expand our state’s clean energy future, but we have to consider how we sustain our economic growth responsibly. New Mexicans love this state, which means we can all get behind sensible, realistic and environmentally responsible solutions to meet our energy needs. However, the idea that we can immediately drop traditional fuels and rely just on renewable energy is ludicrous. Instead, we must continue to rely on traditional fuels while we move steadily to produce cleaner energy.

Thankfully, we are already diversifying our energy portfolio while producing the cleanest energy on the planet during a time of record production. Here in New Mexico, emissions of key air pollutants and greenhouse gases have declined significantly across the state.

Look at it another way. What if someone insisted you throw out your bed and sleep on the floor for the next decade because you’re getting a spectacular new bed in 2030? Absurd, right? But it’s an apt analogy. We need a transitional period to enable new, breakthrough technologies to help us realize a clean energy future.

Like our beds, we use energy every day. It helps power every imaginable American industry and support our nation’s supply chains. During this time of great economic uncertainty, it is the most important ingredient for a robust, fast-growing business environment.

As responsible New Mexicans, we owe it to ourselves to ask and consider good questions before we start throwing out things without having something solid to fall back on just yet.

Matthew Gonzales is New Mexico state director of Consumer Energy Alliance, the leading U.S. consumer advocate supporting affordable, reliable energy for working families, seniors and businesses nationwide.

(1) comment

Jim Klukkert

Recent columns in the New Mexican have a couple of Billionaire front groups supposedly advocating for the working people of our fair state. On 25 September, Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation put up billionaire Charles Koch’s rubbish, while failing to disclose the Foundation’s financial support from wealthy deniers of science.

Gessing’s attack on the able leadership of our Governor and her team to stem the Pandemic, placed NM as doing only average in its death rate, yet failed to note how the deaths of the Dine Nation skews the NM rate dramatically downward. That so many of the Dine live without running water in a 'food desert,’ and lack adequate health care is drives this death rate. This sad reality seems outside of the Foundation’s concern, but makes New Mexico an easy target for opportunists like Gessing.

Today’s column, ‘New Mexico can't abandon oil and gas,’ by Matthew Gonzales of the Consumer Energy Alliance, purports to advocate for ‘affordable, reliable energy for working families, seniors and businesses nationwide.’ In fact, CEA is nothing but a shill for the denial of climate change science.

The extractive industries of oil and gas rely on 19th century radical practices to the detriment of our modern world, bringing New Mexico more Mega-Drought, and more Pollution of our Air, Water and Soil, which in turn bring more disease to our population and more wild fires to our lands. The benefits are privatized for the super rich, the damage is socialized for the rest of us.

A quick look at The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) courtesy of sourcewatch.org: CEA is a … front group for the energy industry that opposes political efforts to regulate carbon standards while advancing deep water and land-based drilling for oil and methane gas. The CEA supports lifting moratoria on offshore and land-based oil and natural gas drilling, encourages the creation and expansion of petroleum refineries and easing the permitting process for drilling… CEA portrays itself as seeking to ensure a "proper balance" between traditional non-renewable and extractive energy sources and alternative energy sources. The group also supports construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

According to Salon.com, which obtained over 300 emails of personal messages between lobbyists and Canadian officials, the CEA is part of a sophisticated public affairs strategy designed to manipulate the U.S. political system by deluging the media with messaging favorable to the tar-sands industry; to persuade key state and federal legislators to act in the extractive industries' favor; and to defeat any attempt to regulate the carbon emissions emanating from gasoline and diesel used by U.S. vehicles.

CEA was created in the late 2000s by Michael Whatley, a founding partner of a Washington, D.C.-based Republican lobbying group HBW Resources that has close ties to the Alberta, Canada tar sands industry. In a January 25, 2010 pro-industry strategy proposal to an Alberta government official, Whatley wrote that he was interested in "conducting a grassroots operation" in "target states" that would "generate significant opposition to discriminatory low carbon fuels standards" that were created to address climate change.

Whatley created the CEA with backing from big energy producers BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon, Shell and the Norwegian energy company Statoil.

A 2015 investigation by The Institute for Southern Studies found that CEA is a group that’s channeled millions in corporate funding to become a leading advocate at the state level for drilling.

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