by James Jimenez, Deming Headlight
Feb. 13, 2020

Over the last decade, New Mexico has grown increasingly dependent on oil and gas revenues to fund our schools and classrooms. Yet, in the coming years, those revenues are expected to decline, and we must prepare for a future that is less dependent on fossil fuels.

That is why we need to take full advantage of this brief window of high oil and gas production, and ensure that we are setting our children and grandchildren up for long-term success. Unfortunately, the federal government’s outdated fiscal rates for drilling on public lands are standing in the way and, as a result, communities across our state have lost out on billions in revenue over the past ten years that could have helped fund education for decades to come.

For example, this week, the Trump Administration is planning to offer nearly 15,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico for oil and gas leasing. Most of these lands are located in the highly productive Permian Basin, yet, they will all be offered at a bargain-basement royalty rate that was established in 1920.

Not surprisingly, this century-old rate is nearly 40 percent lower than the current typical royalty rate for state lands in the Permian Basin. So, while the new leases will likely generate impressive-sounding revenue, in reality, it will be far less than what our state and our school-children should be receiving.

Thankfully, there is something Congress can do right now to help our state plan for a better future: it can modernize federal oil and gas royalty rates, rental rates, and minimum lease bids.

Year after year we have failed to meet the programming and support needs of our students and schools; because of that, New Mexico lost a landmark lawsuit and now ranks at the bottom nationally for educational achievement. One way to tackle these problems is to put less money in the hands of oil and gas companies and more back into our classrooms, as an investment in our children’s futures.

According to a recent analysis from Taxpayers for Common Sense, New Mexico has lost out on as much as $2.5 billion in revenue from public lands drilling over the past decade because the federal government’s oil and gas fiscal policies are so outdated.

This important revenue should have gone toward raising teachers’ salaries, buying new school supplies for our children, and planning for a future when school funding is not dependent on revenue from fossil fuels.

Public lands belong to all of us, which means every New Mexican should be reaping the benefits. Yet, oil and gas companies continue to enjoy sweetheart deals for drilling on our public lands, as exemplified by this week’s lease sale. We urge Congress to take action and update the federal government’s fiscal policies for public lands drilling; our children’s futures depend upon it.

James Jimenez is executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children.