New Mexico’s oil and gas industry spent thousands of dollars this year to block regulations intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from extraction operations across the state.
A lobbyist from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) spent $256,000, per a report from New Mexico Ethics Watch, for “paid advertising in opposition to House Bill 6,” also known as the Clean Future Act.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small (D-36) would have set emission reduction targets to be 50 percent less than 2005 levels by 2030, and 90 percent less by 2050.
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It passed two committees during the 2022 Legislative Session, which ran from January to February, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee but neve saw a vote on the House Floor and died before the session ended.
While the bill was being considered, NMOGA ran multiple ads online describing the industry’s problems with the bill and arguing it would raise energy prices for New Mexicans, while urging voters to voice opposition for such reasons.
“Basic energy costs will skyrocket, hurting the most vulnerable,” said the speaker during an ad published by NMOGA in February. “State revenues will plunge, gutting our schools, public safety and critical social services.
“There’s too much at stake. Tell Santa Fe we’ve had enough. Call your legislator and say no to House Bill 6.”
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In total, the ad campaign cost NMOGA “six figures,” records show.
This opposition came amid widespread support for the bill from environmental groups throughout the state and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham along with her cabinet members.
NMOGA did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Another oil and gas industry advocacy group Power the Future joined the Association in opposing the bill.
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Power the Future’s Santa Fe-based Spokesman Larry Behrens said aside from lobbying efforts by the industry, the Clean Future Act was itself flawed.
He said a previous bill that did pass in 2019 with Lujan Grisham’s support to set emission reduction benchmarks, the Energy Transition Act, had so far “failed” to produce the intended results and proved that such policies were not right for New Mexico.
“When it comes to their crocodile tears over House Bill 6, perhaps they need to learn the reason their bill didn’t get through a legislature dominated by eco-politicians is because it was a terrible bill,” Behrens said.
“This bill was sponsored by several of the same legislators who brought us the failed Energy Transition Act and the high energy bills and possible blackouts that come with it.”
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Against accusations of the industry’s “outsized” voice in New Mexico politics through its lobbying efforts, Behrens said national environmental groups also spent millions to push their agendas in the state.
“It’s completely laughable to watch them bemoan funds spent by the energy industry but completely ignore the millions in campaign donations and lavish parties spent on the part of the radical environmental movement,” Behrens said. “They’re not upset about ethics; they’re upset about their agenda.”
But Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch said the problem with the industry’s efforts was that they put public health at risk by fighting legislation that could reduce pollution.
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She pointed at high profits for energy companies, with oil prices at more than $100 a barrel in recent months, as proof they could afford potentially higher operating costs associated with stricter regulations.
Sabo also referenced this year’s State of the Air annual report from the American Lung Association, which displayed worsening air quality in New Mexico, specifically in oil and gas regions like the southeast Permian Basin and the northwest San Juan Basin.
“New Mexicans need to be aware that the oil and gas industry, through its lobbyists, is not only working to select candidates favorable to its interests,” Sabo said. “But to also defeat legislation beneficial to the well-being of citizens.”
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Along with opposing environmental bills, Ethics Watch detailed funds provided by the industry to also support political candidates on both sides of the aisle in New Mexico this year.
Between October 2021 and April, Ethics Watch reported the three biggest recipients of oil and gas contributions were all candidates for governor ahead of this year’s election.
Republican Mark Ronchetti who is seeking the GOP nomination received $300,000 from industry supporters, per the report, while his opponent in the party’s primary State Rep. Rebecca Dow (R-38) got $122,000.
The third-biggest recipient of oil and gas funds by a New Mexico state politician was Democrat Lujan Grisham, the report read, with about $66,000, the report read.
Kendall Witmer, spokesperson for Lujan Grisham’s reelection campaign said in a statement that donations from the industry do not impact on the governor’s decision making while in office.
“Campaign donations have no effect on policy and to imply otherwise is a disservice to the groundbreaking work made by the governor, local public officials, industry leaders, and communities,” Witmer said.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.