As an educator, advocate and New Mexican, I have dedicated much of my life to giving our state’s children the best possible education. Often that advocacy comes down to resources and funding — how do we secure the resources our kids need?
One question we are forced to think about too often: What’s happening in the roller-coaster oil and gas market? As a special-education teacher, every year we are forced to make difficult decisions about the care and education of children with disabilities. Some years, we can provide adequate staffing and service for these kids. Other years, we can’t afford enough teachers and therapists to provide those services. It is beyond absurd that in New Mexico we are forced to tie the amount of physical therapy a child receives to the price of a barrel of oil! It’s unacceptable on many levels. Educators have enough to worry about without having to stress about what’s happening in the oil and gas markets.
The sobering reality is that New Mexico’s fiscal health — as well as the future of our public schools, public health and environment — are all threatened by reliance on oil and gas. At a time when analysts tell us the industry is in long-term decline, it is past time for our elected leaders to kick-start a conversation about economic and revenue diversification, and transition away from oil and gas.
President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland are engaging in this essential conversation with a wholesale review of how the federal government manages oil and gas drilling. This has big implications for New Mexico, and while I understand some of the concerns about how this review and a pause in new leasing could impact our state, I believe it is essential for several reasons.
First and most important, if we care about improving our children’s future, we have to aggressively address climate change head-on. Nearly 25 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions come from federally managed fossil fuels; it would be irresponsible for the Biden administration not to look for ways to lower that as practically as possible. In New Mexico, more than half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from oil and gas.
Second, the negative financial implications to our state from inaction on changing the way we manage oil and gas are enormous. For starters, climate change is projected to cost New Mexico’s economy $1.6 billion a year, and that may double by 2040. Additionally, regulations that govern development have become so outdated that oil and gas companies have financial assurances to cover only 1 percent of the projected costs to clean up the wells they’ve drilled. With a projected 73,000 wells in the state, that’s a multibillion-dollar liability our future generations cannot afford to take on.
And third, we need to have this conversation as a state. This is far from just a conversation about state or education revenues; this is a conversation about how to make enormous changes in our economy that affects thousands of people and countless communities. We know oil and gas won’t be here forever, and while funding from development supports all aspects of New Mexico’s economy, the clock is ticking, and we have no way of knowing exactly how much is left on the timer.
But I firmly believe we can do this. It will require tough conversations and big policy changes, but they are overdue. Our elected leaders, including our congressional delegation and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, have started tackling these issues, and I implore them to embrace forward-looking reforms that benefit our climate, our state and our students.