NM Oil and Gas Might as Well Have Offices in the Roundhouse

We explore the extraordinary degree to which NM Oil & Gas Association (NMOGA) and its allies rule the legislative and regulatory processes. One News in Brief outlines how BLM protests were largely non-violent, despite black Americans continuing to be murdered by police every week. Another NIB analyzes how social power relationships have led to a governing process dominated by autocrats, resulting in the expropriation of resources from much of the world and the gross aggregation of wealth among the 1%. Read on!

Action Alert: Spotlight on Santa Fe Streetlights

Four residents with expertise on the debate over streetlights in Santa Fe will hold a roundtable at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The participants will include Sam Finn, a retired astrophysicist; Francois-Marie Patorni, a member of several astronomy organizations; Peter Lipscomb, an activist in the dark-sky movement; and moderator Terry Smith, who has served as board chairman of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust and is active in the Dark Skies program. 

Nancy Ostiguy offered a brief op-ed outlining the issue. From Nancy:

Changing Santa Fe’s street lighting to LEDs is a good idea. We have the opportunity to use low-color temperature LEDs to provide the safety we need while protecting the animals and plants with whom we share the planet. Poorly chosen night lighting — either too bright or too “blue” — is a significant disruptor of ecosystems. Mammals, birds, insects, plants and all other organisms depend upon it being dark at night.

For example, night pollinators avoid areas with lighting, resulting in a decrease in pollination and reducing the available habitat for pollinators. Migratory birds, including hummingbirds, are attracted to areas with night lighting, increasing the amount of energy they expend and the probability that some birds will die from starvation. Other birds avoid lighted areas, thus reducing their available habitat. Please support the city using 2200 or lower kelvin LEDS to protect our environment and ourselves.

Thank you, Nancy. For a fuller discussion of the issue, click here.

For information about tonight’s online conversation, contact Sarah Noss, executive director of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, at sarah@sfct.org or 505-670-5713. To get a link to the chat, go to nightskysantafe.org.

News In Brief

  • From The Washington Post: “This summer’s Black Lives Matter protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful, our research finds“. We’ve heard from Fox and the GOP how our cities were held hostage by BLM violence, but this report outlines how over 92% of BLM protests resulted in no violence or property damage. Despite all the sound and fury about BLM violence, police made arrests in only 5% of all BLM protests; police sustained injuries in 1% of the protests and protesters were injured in 1.1% of the BLM protests. If you relied upon Fox, you’d imagine that most urbanites were living in fear from BLM protests. A most interesting piece.
  • From Resilience: “The Evolution of Social Power” by Richard Heinberg,” we find a highly readable journey through the full sweep of human history. It is an absolute must read, as Heinberg outlines in broad strokes the evolution of social power from hunters and gathers to today, delineating how we have evolved from largely cooperative horizontally organized societies to an increasingly steeper and steeper vertically organized society with the power yielded from the top down. To illustrate the impact of vertically organized social power upon wealth building in the world, Heinberg offers this quote illustrating how colonialism and capitalism have conspired to create conveniences for some while exploiting those who produce those conveniences.

“As Jason Hickel points out, low-GDP nations contribute about 80 percent of the global economy’s labor and resources, but receive about five percent of the income generated.”

At the end of the piece, Heinberg lists about a dozen questions that we, as a society must answer if we are to resist and reverse the slide toward autocracy across the world. This is a very worthwhile and engaging read.

And today, in yet another thoughtful piece from Heather Cox Richardson, the questions posed by Heinberg are condensed to just one central question: Can our democracy be hijacked by false information and allegiance to an autocratic leader, or will our democracy allow the US government to deliver the services, resources, supports and designs that can reverse the wealth gap, address climate change, and lead to a just transition? HCR reviews Biden’s first 100 days and his address to Congress, placing it in this historic context: Can Biden and Congress work together to restore our confidence that government can work for us or do we succumb to oligarchy because government is gridlocked and incapable of delivering for the American people? Click here for HCR’s April 28 piece.

Gas & Oil: How They Control NM Public Policy

According to New Mexico fights to escape powerful grip of big oil and gas,” a report from The Guardian, Gas and oil companies gave over $3.2 million to New Mexico politicians from both parties in 2020, according to a report from the New Mexico Ethics Watch. Rep. Nathan Small led the Dems with almost $40,000 in donations, followed closely by Rep. Mo Maestas, Rep. Patty Lundstrom, Rep. Javier Martinez, Senator Peter Wirth, Senator Joseph Cervantes and Speaker Brian Egolf.

What’s more, The Guardian reports that a PAC supporting New Mexico’s Democratic House Campaign Committee headed by Speaker Brian Egolf took over $180,000 from oil and gas interests in the 2020 election cycle. Egolf has defended the contributions and his environmental record.

“People who work on campaigns require to be paid. Radio ads and Facebook ads don’t pay for themselves,” Egolf said, “and until we have publicly financed campaigns, we are going to be required to raise private funds to run these efforts.”

From The Guardian: “New Mexico fights to escape powerful grip of big oil and gas

Ask any of these legislators and they will tell you that the donations are needed to elect good Democrats and that the donations are really not part of a quid pro quo. They will tell you that lobbyists and industry donations do not translate into votes to protect the industry. But given that no legislation that in any way has threatened the gas and oil industry has passed the Roundhouse in recent memory, or even advanced past one or two committee hearings, it is worth asking if there isn’t some form of quid pro quo in play.

The Guardian goes on to describe exactly how one Senator, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stifled two bills that challenged gas and oil in the 2021 session. SB86 Uses of Water by Oil & Gas was an effort to revise the Produced Water Act, passed in 2019. SB 149, Prohibit New Fracking would have paused NM’s issuance of fracking leases and forced it to conduct a study to assess the economic, environmental, and social costs of continued fracking. Both died in SJC. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sen. Cervantes is recipient of a large amount of campaign funding from gas and oil, with fully 17% of his donations coming from this source.

But it isn’t just that these two bills died in SJC, a whole litany of bills that challenged the gas and oil industry failed to advance in the 2021 session, including:

  • SJR 3, the Environmental Rights Act, AKA The Green Amendment
  • SB 83, Local Choice Energy
  • HB 9 Climate Solutions Act
  • HB 50 Private Right of Action, which would have granted NM residents the power to take action against polluters impacting their personal or community health
  • SB 296 Increase Penalties for Oil and Gas Violations

Democratic leadership will point to a number of environmental bills that did pass, including HB 15 Sustainable Building Tax Credit, HB 51 Environmental Date Base, and SB 84 Community Solar. But neither HB 15, nor HB 51 challenge the gas and oil industry and SB 84 was substantially amended and weakened to respond to industry concerns.

So, while NM did pass some groundbreaking legislation in 2021, none of those bills address climate change. Unfortunately, there is this nasty deadline associated with addressing the looming climate catastrophe: a deadline that if missed, leaves us helpless in preventing environmental apocalypse, leading Youth United Against Climate Catastrophe (YUCCA) leader Artemisio Romero y Carver to comment:

“Leaving this session, I have never felt less hope for our government,” Romero y Carver said. “In the same year that California burned and Texas froze, the New Mexico state legislature [passed] no or very, very limited environmental protection legislation.”

From The Guardian: “New Mexico fights to escape powerful grip of big oil and gas

But it isn’t only in relation to legislation that the gas and oil industry can flex its muscles. The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, its member oil operators and allies are also astute at manipulating the regulatory process.

In a February presentation, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association told its board it had secured significant changes to a proposed rule for limiting methane pollution. The state accepted more than 70 of the trade group’s redline edits, NMOGA said, according to records obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute.

From The Guardian: “New Mexico fights to escape powerful grip of big oil and gas

While some environmental advocates praised the new methane regulations, it is worth noting that so did the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, pointed out that the regulations had been so weakened by industry “input” that the resulting regulations amount to window dressing. Even worse, as Nichols notes, it allows the industry to puff out its chest and claim environmental stewardship where no such stewardship is in play.

“It gives them [Oil & Gas] a chance to claim they’re taking ‘bold’ climate action, when at the end of the day, all methane regulation does is condone more fracking,” Nichols said in an email. “While the specific rules that were adopted by [the state] were certainly an improvement from where they were, they still condone some degree [of] flaring and venting, which is just unacceptable.”

From The Guardian: “New Mexico fights to escape powerful grip of big oil and gas

Put simply, the new methane regulations and SB 84 Community Solar have two things in common: industry support and amendments that render the bills/regulations largely ineffectual. This is what happens when the Speaker of the House receives almost $200,000 in campaign contributions to his PAC; when other Democrats are plied with NMOGA campaign cash; and when you have a governor who has stated to NMOGA that “I work for you.”

It may not be that all that cash makes a whit of difference in the legislative process, but when the legislature has the courage to repeal the abortion ban, legalize marijuana, advance the Health Security Act, pass a variety of good tax and revenue bills, create paid sick leave and create end of life options, you have to wonder why that courage shrinks in the face of the gas and oil industry.

Democratic leadership will point to another factor that may be the true determining factor in our failure to regulate gas and oil: our reliance upon that industry for 30-40% of our state revenue. And while this fiscal reality is hard to dispute, if we continue to rely on gas and oil revenue to pay for our educational system, we may improve the education of our youth while slamming the door on their future.

For this reason, Retake will be watching closely the work of the Sustainable Economy Task Force, charged with developing a plan to diversify our state economy. The composition of that task force will be important to determining if Democratic leadership is willing to seriously challenge gas and oil. For this reason, I have reached out to the Governor asking if I could be considered for one of the at-large community positions on that Task Force.

The industry would just as soon sustain the state’s reliance on their revenue. It allows them to operate unfettered by regulation or constraints. I suspect NMOGA will have a seat at the table just as they did in forming the methane regulations. If the plan that emerges from that Task Force is praised by NMOGA, we will know that the plan is as meaningful as the new methane rules and the Community Solar Act that was amended by industry. Stay tuned.

In solidarity, hope and gratitude,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Climate Justice

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2 replies

  1. I am not surprised, yet very saddened to see our local Democratic elected officials accepting the gold coins that sell New Mexicans out to the Oil Barons. I lost faith in our “representation” when the Permian Basin was acceptable — that land is devastated and now we peek towards renewables. Too little too late. May the gold jingle in their pockets reminding them of their du·plic·i·ty.

  2. Sen Cervantes looms large again. Just saying.

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