After a summer of wildfires — one of which was the largest in New Mexico’s state history, burning 341,735 acres of land — and the Rio Grande becoming dry for the first time in 40 years, the environment remains a point of conversation amongst candidates as Election Day approaches.
Mona Blaber, the communications coordinator for the Sierra Club, a nonpartisan environmental advocacy group, and Kineo Memmer, the director of communications and outreach for the University of New Mexico’s Leaders for Environmental Action and Foresight, both spoke about the importance of these environmental issues and how they are showing up on the ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 8th.
“Climate disruption is really the biggest crisis that faces humanity because it affects every other issue, including the economy,” Blaber said. “If you look at all the costs of climate disruption already, it's in the hundreds of billions of dollars … and it causes people economic stress through lack of water for farming and then higher prices because agriculture harmed by climate change caused drought.”
Public land commissioner is one office up for reelection that Blaber said was important to pay attention to, as for an entity to be able to drill for gas and oil on state trust lands, they must apply through the New Mexico State Land Office.
“Throughout the decades, there's been a lot of oil and gas drilling on state trust lands, and there still is. And so that has provided some revenue, but there's also lots of other sources of revenue from state trust lands,” Blaber said.
The current public land commissioner race is between the incumbent Stephanie Garcia Richard (D) and Jefferson Bryd (R). Bryd has experience working in the oil and gas industry and wants to foster and it. Richard seeks to diversify revenue streams to make the state less dependent on it while still recognizing the amount of money oil and gas does bring into the state, according to their respective websites.
“If we increased funding and held the oil and gas companies accountable for cleaning up the orphan wells, that could create $4 billion in investment and thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in state royalties. So there are a lot of ways to move ourselves off of oil and gas dependence,” Blaber said, referencing a study by Richard, who she supports for office.
Memmer said LEAF is watching the attorney general race, as they priorly filed a complaint asking for an investigation into the UNM Foundation’s ties to the oil and gas industry. She opes a new AG would take the complaint further. Neither candidate in the race is an incumbent, and it is between Raúl Torrez (D) and Jeremy Gay (R).
“We're really hoping with the new attorney general that he'll take that complaint more seriously and kind of reopen up that dialogue,” Memmer said.
With the impending effects that climate change will bring, Memmer spoke about the impact this election and all elections can have, especially in a smaller state like New Mexico where you can speak more directly with your representatives.
“I think that it's always important to keep environmental issues in mind. And I think that every election is important, and it should always be a consideration. But I do think that, you know, we are kind of running out of time, from the IPCC reports, they keep reporting that we're running out of time to slow our carbon emissions and slow down our use of fossil fuels,” Memmer said. “Every election is every chance that we get as citizens to have a say in who represents us.”
The first amendment of New Mexico’s constitution also directly discusses oil and gas revenue from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. The amendment would put 1.25% of the five-year average of market values from the fund toward early childhood education and public schools. Both Blaber and Memmer support this amendment despite where the money is from.
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“We should remember that those are our public resources that oil and gas companies are taking and profiting from. So we should use those royalties to their best use, which, you know, educating kids is a great use for it,” Blaber said.
Memmer also said the question would not change where the money is coming from, but instead solely where it is going.
“What's on the ballot right now isn't going to actually change where that money comes from or change where that money is invested in. It's just going to give more money to early childhood education, which is extremely important,” Memmer said.
New Mexico receives about $2 billion in oil and gas money, and the sales and taxes from the industry amount to $500 million, according to the legislative finance committee, creating a significant amount of the revenue the state receives.
“In the last few years, we've seen a lot of royalties from oil and gas. But in years previous to that there's been a bust, and that really hurts our state budget. And so, we have to figure out a way not to rely on oil and gas anymore. And we have to start doing that pretty quickly because oil and gas hurts us much more economically in ways that aren't necessarily directly visible,” Blaber said.
The threats climate change can bring and have brought to the state make this election important for the future of the planet, according to Memmer.
“I think this election is as important as any other election, but it's very important because we are running out of time to feel the effects of climate change, and we've been affected by climate change already, but it's just going to keep getting worse from here on out,” Memmer said. “You really need to consider the climate and the environment when we're making these voting decisions.”
The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico did not respond to multiple attempts asking for comment in time for the publication of this article.
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maddogpukite