As we approach next week’s special session of the state legislature, I have been thinking a great deal about how to provide relief to hardworking New Mexicans who are paying more at the pump, while creating long-term solutions for transitioning our economy away from our boom-and-bust dependence on oil and gas. Like many of us, I’ve been closely following the senseless invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin — a war that among other issues includes oil and gas.
Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry and their allies have been using the invasion of Ukraine to advance misleading, “drill more” rhetoric that provides no tangible steps to provide sustainable relief or solutions for New Mexicans.
To be sure, gasoline prices are hitting our wallets right now and it hurts. But let’s not be fooled that it is the oil and gas companies that need some sort of “relief” right now from state and federal policies in order to increase production.
In late 2020, a Devon Energy executive said on an investor call that “we have a deep inventory of approved federal permits in hand that essentially cover all of our desired activity over the next presidential term.” He was referring to the temporary pause President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wisely put in place on the issuance of new federal leases last year in order to review the climate and budgetary impacts of these leases. The previous administration had encouraged stockpiling of thousands of still-unused leases in its final days.
Today, oil companies are dancing to Wall Street pressures to return cash profits to shareholders rather than invest in more production. According to a new survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, 59% of oil company CEOs said investor pressure is the primary reason for their restraint to not invest more in supply. Only 6% of those CEOs attributed lack of production growth to government regulation, such as state or federal safeguards that protect our health and water and climate.
As I testified to Congress last year, we can no longer ignore the negative effects the oil and gas industry has on our state and our future. In addition to our economy, it touches every aspect of our air, land, water, wildlife, and the health of our communities. Climate change is here and now, and New Mexico is the crosshairs. Historic drought and water shortages continue to threaten the livelihoods of our farmers. Extreme weather events, from flooding to out-of-control wildfires, threaten entire communities in New Mexico each year.
I applaud Sen. Martin Heinrich’s efforts to educate homeowners and small businesses about the climate, health and long-term affordability benefits of electrification. Further, I embrace our local and state elected leaders’ efforts to expand clean energy alternatives. Our state leaders could further lend a hand to New Mexico consumers —not only by issuing rebate checks in the mail to households, which I support — but by setting up a gasoline price-gouging hotline and holding violators accountable, to serve as a watchdog to protect New Mexico consumers.
True energy independence means diversifying away from the volatility of fossil fuels. Only through a clean energy economy — that maintains high standards for health, safety, and environmental and consumer protection — can we protect both the pocket books of our communities and the land in which they thrive.
New Mexico Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, represents District 38.