Oil and Gas industry trying to cut the line while putting us all at risk

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Considering the unprecedented nature of our current public health and economic crisis, you might be surprised (or not) to know who’s trying to take advantage of the situation for their benefit.

Yup, you guessed it, it’s the Oil and Gas Industry (of course). 

The reaches the oil and gas industry are going for are actually astounding given the circumstances — who else would even consider trying to relax and delay rules that protect public health during a public health crisis? Or give themselves a bailout at the expense of New Mexico’s schools, teachers and first responders at the exact moment the state is dealing with a budget crisis? 

This has been true at the national level as well as here in New Mexico with groups like the American Petroleum Institute, Power the Future and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association trying to use this crisis to advocate for weaker regulatory requirements and shirk their financial obligations to New Mexico taxpayers.

And what’s even worse- the Trump Administration is giving this industry even more than it’s asking for, including a broad suspension of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce its own rules. We’d understand if you missed headlines such as “Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry” while worried about everything else, but truly this is a devastating turn of events for all of us, the air we breathe and the water we drink. 

The American Petroleum Institute (API) asked for a “lifeline” but Trump’s administration sent them a yacht. The original request from API was a broad spectrum ask for the EPA to allow oil companies to “not comply” with “non-essential” mandates if they could show that Covid-19 related impacts were impacting their operations. Under Trump’s direction, however, the EPA released a decision that well, is pretty clear in its intentions: 

But it is clear that a primary beneficiary will be the oil industry, which sought suspension of its obligations under consent decrees over past air and water pollution violations at its refineries, deferral of requirements on handling of fracking wastewater and a pause in reporting its greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.

So that’s awful. We know that the EPA and the regulations they oversee are the result of years of work to protect the environment, our air and water, and our communities from the byproducts of industrial companies. And in a time where our health is LITERALLY paramount, we’re in for a world of hurt. 

“Increased pollution increases susceptibility to infection,” said Dr. Meredith McCormack, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association and associate professor of pulmonary and critical care at Johns Hopkins University. “All things being equal, a person exposed to air pollution would likely have a worse outcome if they were exposed to coronavirus.”

That’s not the only thing happening at the national level that could have drastic impacts on New Mexico. Just Tuesday, a consortium of conservative Senators sent a letter to the Department of the Interior, asking (in the name of Covid-19) for the DOI to suspend royalty payments from oil and gas companies on federal lands. That would cost New Mexico over $1 BILLION a year in our share of those leases. We’ve already seen the fallout from the fluctuations in the oil market in our projected revenues in the last few weeks, imagine if there were simply NO payments from oil companies on New Mexico’s federal lands? 

Meanwhile, closer to home, the various talking heads from pro-oil groups like Power the Future haven’t held back with their own disdain for important regulations that keep New Mexicans safe or the policies that help recoup the revenue generated from our state lands being leased by industry. 

After a public meeting was held last month, Larry Behrens of Power the Future made waves after saying the state should delay implementing a long-awaited methane rule, part of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s major campaign points when she was elected. 

“Power the Future has pushed for the state to delay drafting methane regulations due to the coronavirus. New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department have been tasked with drafting those rules.” 

We all know how powerful these groups like Power the Future and NMOGA are working to become. Just take NMOGA Executive Director Ryan Flynn’s word for it:  “NMOGA is going to be the most powerful organization in the state of New Mexico, period.”

The oil and gas industry’s efforts to exert undue influence on New Mexico was again highlighted yesterday as Common Cause New Mexico released a COMPREHENSIVE report about how NMOGA, API, Power the Future, and their lobby spend MILLIONS in NM to fund politicians and shape the narrative every year, “The recent oil boom in New Mexico has unleashed more than an ocean of oil and gas money; it has unleashed a gusher of campaign contributions, a flurry of lobbyists offering expensive dinners, and a mammoth public relations offensive financed by one of the largest and most powerful professional associations in the state,” said Heather Ferguson, the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico.

Strong regulations to limit oil and gas pollution are crucial for our health and our state’s budget. Luckily Governor Lujan Grisham and her regulators are working hard to enact nationally leading rules that will comprehensively cut methane waste and pollution from the oil and gas industry this year. That is the sort of action in the face of a crisis that we can and should support.