by James Jimenez, Santa Fe New Mexican
Aug. 29, 2020

A recent op-ed by Steve Pearce, Republican Party chairman, was a stunning acknowledgement: State leaders must embrace a future and a state budget that no longer relies on this volatile industry and must double down on diversifying New Mexico’s economy (“Oil lobbyist hits rock with political drilling,” Commentary, Aug. 10).

Industry leaders are quick to blame COVID-19 for all their woes, but the reality is they were in serious trouble before the pandemic hit, with an oversupply of oil on the international market flooding the already shaky financial house of cards that speculators built. Now, news breaks every week of multibillion-dollar losses, a growing wave of bankruptcies and, sadly, thousands of unemployed workers left to fend for themselves while some corporate executives take golden parachutes on their way out the door.

Even more troubling are the potential liabilities and pollution threats to our groundwater that our state faces from oil and gas wells that have been abandoned by bankrupt energy companies. While estimates put that liability in the tens of millions of dollars, future bankruptcies, outdated policies and the explosion of advanced technologies that have drilled and fracked our lands deeper and harsher will no doubt result in cleanup costs that will be many times higher for New Mexico taxpayers.

Make no mistake — past initiatives sought to modernize the regulation of oil and gas and the posting of bonds to clean up future messes — but oil and gas lobbyists repeatedly invoked the “goose that lays the golden egg” idea, and those legislative initiatives quickly died. So now we taxpayers may be stuck holding the bag for the mess.

These are the realities left out of the picture that Pearce himself says is painted “too rosy.”

That leaves us in a scary situation, but there are things we can do and choices we can make. Contrary to what some legislative leaders say, making further cuts to the state’s budget cannot be one of them. More cuts to education, health care, our parks, and the protection of clean air and water — or any other essential government function — will slow our recovery and condemn New Mexico to a future markedly less bright than the one our children deserve.

Instead, we should repeal the failed trickle-down tax breaks that were handed to the well-connected and big out-of-state corporations over the past two decades. Not only would this make us far less dependent on revenue from oil and gas, it would make our tax system more equitable for everyday working New Mexicans and more stable.

We should continue to grow New Mexico’s outdoor recreation economy, which supports $1.2 billion in income and more than 30,000 jobs. We must continue smart investments in renewable energy production. We applaud Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for leading the way on these issues and State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard for her goal of tripling wind and solar energy generated on state trust land by 2022.

To slow these reforms, industry advocates will no doubt continue to dangle the goose’s golden egg in front of us, telling us how quickly we’re recovering and how invested the industry is long-term.

I am glad to see Pearce speak to the reality and unfortunate circumstances we face. But to chart a better future for New Mexico, we cannot simply repeat the mistakes of the past and pretend we won’t find ourselves back in this exact position a few years down the road. New Mexico must look past the oil and gas industry and take the necessary steps toward a better future that awaits us once we do.

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