After four years of harmful rollbacks to critical environmental and climate policy, President Joe Biden has recommitted the United States to leading the way toward a cleaner energy future.
Just a week after inauguration, the Biden administration released a sweeping set of executive orders establishing an action plan to take on issues such as environmental justice, renewable energy, climate change and the conservation of public lands, water and wildlife.
When considering the orders’ impact on our state’s environment and economy, two distinct actions come to the forefront. First, the Biden administration has made a bold resolution to protect 30 percent of land and water by 2030, an initiative referred to as 30x30. Second, the administration has pressed “pause” on new oil and gas leases on federal lands.
For years, as CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, I have been honored to work with businesses committed to protecting and honoring New Mexico’s wildlife and public lands.
As a community of green-minded businesses, we are encouraged by the administration’s commitment to put our shared future ahead of oil and gas profits. And the 30x30 order will act to galvanize the outdoor recreation economy, sustaining the growth of an industry that already contributes $2.3 billion to New Mexico’s GDP and supports more than 33,000 jobs.
In New Mexico, the federal government manages nearly 35 percent of our public land. Despite the unsubstantiated concerns from the industry about the pause on new leases, oil and gas leases on state public lands have been in sharp decline for years.
Of the 4.2 million acres leased on federal lands in our state, 1.1 million of those acres leased remain undeveloped — more than 25 percent. Effectively, this executive action on new leases poses no threat to an industry that is already in a tailspin and holding on to more than a million acres of land that remain undeveloped.
Weaning the state off its dependence on the royalties from oil and gas extraction is already happening, and the extractive industry is doing everything they can to hold their position, but the ball is already in motion.
With the pause on new drilling permits, we the people are declaring a breakaway from the extractive industry in favor of a more renewable energy sector that can provide long-term, sustainable jobs. For the sake of New Mexico’s environment and the health of New Mexicans, the transition toward a renewable energy economy deserves honesty, thoughtfulness and expedience.
Undoubtedly, Big Oil will continue to draw out unnecessary debate on the issue. Oil and gas corporations have been hoarding federal land permits for years. According to a recent article published by Reuters, Occidental Petroleum Corp., a multibillion dollar oil company that drills in New Mexico, is holding on to over 200 permits of our state’s oil reserves. Ameredev II, another Big Oil corporation that extracts 10,000 barrels of New Mexican oil per day, has enough permits to last another four years. The industry is trying to connect the reduction of revenue to Biden’s bold action for our environment, but that’s simply not true.
In New Mexico, our culture and heritage are inextricably linked to the land, water and wildlife. We are leading the charge to transition away from an extractive economy that our state has been overly reliant on, that has created deep inequities and harmed natural ecosystems and our health. It remains our duty to hold the oil and gas industry accountable throughout the transition, until we have fully cemented New Mexico’s legacy of protecting the Earth over profit and welcoming newer, less-harmful industries while increasing our standing as a leader in the renewable energy industry.