Albuquerque Journal: A Transparent Look at Gov. Martinez and Big Oil

January 2011

By Stephen Capra
Executive Director, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance

It has been quite a week since new Gov. Susana Martinez took office. Her most important pledge has been transparency. In being truly transparent, we should scrutinize her first actions in office.

At the behest of the very people that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her election and Inauguration Gala — oil companies and her most important adviser, Harvey E. Yates of Yates Petroleum — the week began with the elimination of the state’s Environmental Improvement Board. The EIB had serious concerns about global climate change and had advocated for the adoption of a regional cap and trade program, which had been endorsed by Gov. Bill Richardson.

The reality is our climate is dramatically changing. Rather than taking this seriously and reacting with a proposal that considers such scientifically important information, the governor, herself a climate change denier, has chosen a radical person to run New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, former astronaut and climate-change denier Harrison Schmidt. The clear message is that New Mexico is open to oil, gas, coal and other 19th-Century technologies, regulations will be dramatically reduced, oversight will be forgotten. …

Let us not fool ourselves. This new governor will use job creation as the ruse to allow Big Oil free reign in our state, on our land, wildlife and most importantly in the polluting of our precious water….

In the coming weeks, the governor will try to fulfill another campaign pledge — one that will harm New Mexicans and future generations. She will push for the removal of the “Pit Rule,” which was put in place by Richardson. It was created to protect our ground water, which is our future drinking water, by requiring oil companies to line the pits in which their wastewater evaporates.
This prevents incredible amounts of oil pollution from leaching into groundwater. The cost of this rule to the New Mexico oil industry is just pennies on the dollar. Yet industry continues to claim it is “stopping production “in our state. Oil and gas insiders like Yates continue to produce wildly inflated costs for this small but important safety procedure.

New Mexico has a long history of lax regulation of oil and gas. One look at some of the fields east of Artesia or the impacts ranchers have felt near Farmington make clear the need for strong enforcement, not relaxing of regulations. It is not designed to stop development; it is crafted to protect our groundwater against a variety of highly toxic chemicals used by industry on a daily basis. Sadly, and with complete transparency, the new governor appears only too happy to give away our environment to the very people who will profit, leaving taxpayers to pick up the cost of their short-term exploitation of our land, air and water.

Another well known goal of polluting industries is the elimination of the Water Quality Control Commission, which helps to ensure that New Mexicans enjoy clean, safe water quality. The governor has moved quickly on industries other environmental directives; how will she respond to this request?

New Mexico faces a real budget deficit. This is something we cannot simply wish away. Everyone must be prepared to sacrifice in order to get the budget in order. However, we are quickly seeing something more than an attempt to balance the budget. What we are witnessing very quickly is “payback” to an industry in New Mexico and Texas that has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to place a governor willing to support the agenda of big oil at the cost of hard-working families. …

It’s worth noting these words from the New Mexico Constitution: “The protection of the state’s beautiful and healthful environment is hereby declared to be of fundamental importance to the public interest, health, safety and the general welfare (Article XX, Sec. 21).”
We hope the governor will take these important words to heart. Our land, water and wildlife are what make our state so special. Nothing is more important in this arid climate than water. The Pit Rule and regulation of the oil and gas industry are far from onerous; they were carefully crafted regulations that frankly do not go far enough.

Full transparency means understanding the people and motives that are pressuring our newly elected governor and realizing the impact on our state’s future and the well-being of our water supply.

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