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While the oil boom is good for the NM budget, it leaves little for environmental agencies.

While the oil boom is good for the NM budget, it leaves little for environmental agencies.

New Mexico was blessed with a record-breaking $8.5Billion budget thanks to the boom in the oil & gas industry. Despite this windfall, lawmakers refused to provide the funds needed to regulate the increased pollution caused by such booms.

Although the budgets of the state’s two primary environmental agencies, New Mexico Environment Department and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, will be modestly increased from the general fund, they will still fall below the $9 million requested by the governor and agencies. Recommendation on Executive Budget.

Both the environment agencies are responsible to increasing levels of oversight. This includes enforcing food safety and pollution restrictions, as well as mitigating wildfires. Despite increasing duties, the proposed spending plan fiscal year 2023 calls NMEDs budget to be almost 5 percent lower when adjusted by inflation than it was 2008; EMNRDs budget will be almost 13 percent lower.

James Kenney, NMED Secretary, said that New Mexicans won’t see us making climate changes as much as we want. After the session, I was exhausted and frustrated.

In recent years, legislators have consistently declined to use the excess cash accumulated during oil booms towards environmental regulations and mitigating industry’s environmental effects. New Mexico, the second-largest producer of oil, has had its problems. Fewer field inspectors Compared to other extractive states. 

This disparity is not addressed in the new budget. The Oil Conservation Division (an office within the EMNRD that monitors and controls oil and gas activity) will only be able five new staff members. It had previously requested funding for 25 employees, primarily for compliance and rehabilitation.

Profits and pollution

Although oil and gas revenues can bring New Mexico a lot of money, there are a few costs associated with increased production. The industry is the largest sourceRegulation and pollution control are frequently opposed by industry leaders and the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. To help defeat the law, a lobbyist for New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spent $256,500 on advertisements during the 2022 legislative session. Clean Future ActA bill was introduced that would have imposed statutory limits on greenhouse gas emission. Industries would be required to reduce their emissions 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The goal is to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

They contribute to the economy, but they also profit hand in fist from public goods, while externalizing the harm they do to us all, Camilla Fiebelman director of the Sierra Clubs Rio Grande branch, said of oil- and gas producers.

NMED and Oil Conservation Division may also face budget cuts that could impact their ability to implement regulations. The agencies are working to develop new rules to increase the amount data they can monitor. They will also require oil and gas operations that reduce their emissions to be monitored. The industry will self-report the data. Although auditability is required, it is unclear how the rules can be enforced if there are not regular inspections.

A history of shortfalls

The state environment departments hoped for increased funding in the upcoming fiscal year after suffering budget cuts for more than a ten years. The recession brought about the first, modest cuts, which were made in 2009 and then increased under Gov. Susana Martinez, who cut environmental budgets by 20-30 percent. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham attempted to restore funding for the departments, but her budget suggestions have been repeatedly cut. 

The state government is trying to address climate changes while also balancing its strong connections to the oil-and-gas industry. This latest budget shortfall will be the state’s second largest. According to An analysisAccording to the New Mexico Tax Research Institute tax revenue from oil and gas industries accounted for 33 percent of the state’s revenue in the most recent fiscal year. The group’s reports show that oil and gas funds have been increasingly dependent in recent years.Trend that started more than a decade agoAfter modifications to the tax structure. 

Adrienne Sandoval is the director of the Oil Conservation Division. She said that the office will do its very best to manage the increased workloads despite having 20 less staff than required. We’ve reorganized the division to help us get the most efficiency out of the staff that we do have, she said.

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Kenney and Sandoval said they both hope to make up the staff shortages with new technology. Remote monitoring and online reports can allow agencies to do more with fewer resources. Technology can’t fix everything. 

Kenney stated that sometimes his agency has difficulties equipping staff with computers. His agency has closed down field offices in the past due to inability of staffing them. He has also cancelled field work in remote parts because of inability of paying for a hotel room.

Kenney stated that the budget has a permanent impact on our ability and capacity to hold polluters accountable. Our budget cannot protect all New Mexico communities, so there is inequity.

Searchlight New Mexico is an independent news organization that focuses on investigative reporting in New Mexico.

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