Millions of dollars were spent on the repair of abandoned oil and natural gas wells in New Mexico after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed a spending bill that was passed during the second Special Legislative Session in 2021.
The session was convened Dec. 3, primarily to approve redistricting propositions by the Legislature. However House Bill 2 was also approved to serve as spending plan for federal COVID-19 dollars under the American Rescue Act. This will be followed by the 30-day regular budget session, which is scheduled to begin in January 2022.
HB 2 allocated $479 Million to multiple state agencies, including the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resource Department (EMNRD), which manages oil and natural gas operations in the state and leads conservation efforts on state land.
A total of $43.5million was allocated to environmental conservation and outdoor recreation.
The bill provided $3.5 million for the cleanup and rehabilitation of abandoned oil and natural gas wells. These wells are often abandoned by operators, leaving the state to cover the cost.
Remediating land and plugging abandoned wells can cost millions depending on the characteristics of the sites and wells constructed.
Earlier this year, EMNRD had estimated that there were up to 700 of these wells in New Mexico.
The Department also received $20 Million through HB 2 in order to renovate or build facilities at New Mexico’s state parks. This was in response to a backlog of maintenance projects that had been delayed.
Sarah Cottrell Propst, EMNRD Cabinet Secretary, stated that the legislature recognized the importance outdoor recreation and environmental preservation by funding improvements in state parks and remediating lands impacted from the oil and gas industries.
Today’s governors have signed a significant investment in the outdoor recreation industry and the protection of the environment and human health.
Outdoor recreation gets a boost
To help preserve lands for outdoor recreation, HB 2 provided a total of $10,000,000 to New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division, which is part of the New Mexico Economic Development Department.
This money was used to fund the Divisions Trails+ program, which grants grants to improve or renovate hiking trails in the state, and $3 million to New Mexico’s Outdoor Equity Fund, which funds educational programs to increase outdoor recreation participation among children.
Alicia Keyes, Economic Development Cabinet Secretary, stated that the dollars would diversify New Mexico’s economy and help to build its outdoor recreation industry. This will create jobs and protect the environment.
Gov. Keyes said that Lujan.Grisham has been a champion in New Mexico for the outdoor recreation sector. She understands that this is an important industry, which can grow jobs in all areas of the state, but particularly in rural communities. This is because they are able to identify outdoor recreation businesses in order to invest in these assets to benefit their families and create jobs.
Axie Navas, Director of Outdoor Recreation Division said that the funding will allow the Division 14 times the growth of Trails+ and triple the reach for the Outdoor Equity Fund.
The Division granted more than 506,000 grants to 25 organizations in 2021 through the Trails+ program. Another grant was awarded to 57 organizations through Outdoor Equity Fund. It is estimated that the program supports outdoor activities for 22,000 New Mexican kids.
Navas stated that this funding is a long-term commitment to the state’s people and landscapes.
New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), however, received $10 million through the bill to manage its River Stewardship Program. These grants will be awarded to projects throughout New Mexico to improve New Mexico’s rivers, streams, and other natural resources.
The funding will go to projects that restore wetlands, address flooding and drought impacts, and reduce pollution in order to protect wildlife.
James Kenney, NMED Cabinet secretary, stated that New Mexico is less vulnerable to climate change and investing in its rivers and wetlands will ensure that New Mexico’s watersheds support cultural, economic and other life-sustaining traditions.
This funding supports local job creation and construction in New Mexico, which is an economic win for New Mexicans.
American Rescue Act spending also prioritizes infrastructure
When planning to spend federal relief dollars, Lujan-Grisham and lawmakers also considered New Mexico’s infrastructure requirements a top priority.
The bill provided $10 million each for the development of electric vehicle charging stations. It also included work at regional airports, and the Clean-up New Mexico Roadway Beautification Program through the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
Road projects in many counties were funded with $142 million, including Doa Ana and urban Bernalillo counties.
The department thanks the legislators for making the general appropriations. They also authorized the NMDOT’s expenditure of millions of dollars to high-priority initiatives like roadside litter, supporting environment infrastructure, and aviation economic growth. They also attended to projects at various stages of design and construction, or near completion, stated Michael Sandoval, NMDOT Cabinet secretary.
Here’s a list with road projects that have been funded by the bill
- The Interstate 40 corridor in McKinley County and Cibola County.
- Santa Teresa in Dona Ana County has a new state road.
- New Mexico Highway 128, Carlsbad to Jal In Eddy and Lea Counties.
- New Mexico Highway 180 in Grant County.
- Bobby Foster Road to Mesa Del Sol (Bernalillo County).
- Interstate 25 in Bernalillo County, from Montgomery Boulevard to Comanche Road
- Santa Fe County, Cerrillos Road
- Pinon Hills Boulevard in San Juan County.
- New Mexico Highway 39, Mosquero in Harding & San Miguel Counties.
$133 million was used to expand broadband access in the state. $25million was dedicated to housing aid for people who are homeless, as well as improving access to affordable housing.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.