by Mark Schlosberg
The powerful fossil fuel industry flexed its significant muscle in New Mexico this year, blocking a bill which would have paused new fracking in the third largest oil producing state in the country. Yet despite this setback, anti-fracking voices continued to make progress this legislative session.
Fossil Fuel Interests Unleashed A Tidal Wave of Money On Elections In New Mexico
It is hard to understate the influence of fossil fuel money on politics in New Mexico. According to a report from New Mexico Ethics Watch, the fossil fuel industry spent $3.3 million on elections in the state in the 2020 cycle and leadership of both parties accepted significant campaign contributions from them. For this reason, when state Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez introduced a bill to pause fracking this year, few gave it much of a chance of passing out of a single committee, let alone the legislature.
Still, Food & Water Watch and our allies across the state rallied around Sedillo Lopez’s bill, generating hundreds of emails and phone calls to legislators as well as significant media coverage. The result was the bill passing out of the Conservation committee. Though the bill ultimately died in the Judiciary Committee when Chair Joseph Cervantes refused to bring it forward for a vote, the fact that it passed out of its first committee showed the growing strength of the anti-fracking movement in the state. It was not surprising that Cervantes killed the bill as he received 17% of his campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.
This legislative battle highlighted both the growing anti-fracking movement in the state as well as the power of the oil and gas industry. This year we worked to help bring together diverse groups to support the fracking pause bill in the legislature. Bringing together a statewide coalition effort is an important step in building a more powerful presence in New Mexico.
The State of New Mexico Must Reduce Its Dependence on Fossil Fuel Revenue So They Can Adapt
At the same time, it is clear that the oil and gas industry continues to run politics in New Mexico, thanks to their significant political spending and also the way New Mexico funds its governmental operations. Approximately a third of the New Mexico state budget comes from revenue from the oil and gas industry. This state dependence on fossil fuels gives industry an extraordinary amount of political power and leverage in addressing legislation. It is therefore critical that New Mexico diversify its revenue streams and economy if the state is ever going to move off fossil fuels.
For this reason, we are heartened by passage of SB 112, which for the first time creates a task force to study how to advance this critical economic diversification. While the bill is much needed, we remain skeptical about how much progress will be made, as the bill still allows the oil industry to have a seat at the table and the person in charge of the taskforce — Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham — took over $50 thousand in oil money during the 2020 election cycle.
Time Will Tell If Governor Grisham Is More Than Just Talk On Clean Energy
This task force will be a key test for Lujan Grisham. The Governor has called climate change an “existential crisis” and said we need a “clean energy revolution,” yet has spoken out against Biden administration plans to halt leasing for oil and gas on federal lands and continues to take money from dirty energy interests. How she guides the task force will be a key indicator of whether she is really interested in a renewable energy future or just interested in window dressing for the fossil fuel industry.
As we move forward, we will continue to pressure Lujan Grisham to end the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, as well as take on the factory farm industry which continues to pollute New Mexico’s environment. At the same time, we will continue work to protect the greater Chaco region from fracking, in concert with our partners in the Chaco coalition.
New Mexico is a big oil state and change here will not come overnight. Still, the 2020 legislative session represents progress and we are well positioned to work with our allies across the state to build on the progres from this session as we work to advance a clean energy future.
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