Oil and gas is a preeminent economic positive for the state of New Mexico. The industry provides over 130,000 jobs and in 2018 it contributed $16 billion to the state economy. What’s good for New Mexico’s economy is also good for state government, which tallied industry revenue exceeding $3 billion in 2019. That figure looks even more impressive when put in the larger budget context: the $3 billion plus from oil and gas made up almost 40 percent of New Mexico general fund revenue.
It’s curious then that a group based in the Land of Enchantment would undertake an arduous struggle to reverse oil and gas leasing in the state’s southeast. Yet that is just what Santa Fe’s WildEarth Guardians are doing. As I explained in the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico’s leading newspaper, the WildEarthers are engaged in a relentless campaign of litigious harassment that could sap the life from the state economy and blow a hole in the state budget.
For an in-depth discussion of the legal case, follow this link to the aforementioned Journal op-ed.
When contemplating the stakes, consider that the oil and gas revenue windfall has allowed for an invigoration of public investment in New Mexico. The state budget for the recently-closed fiscal year included, for example, a $400 million dollar increase in education spending, with a pay bump for teachers being among the chief line items. The revenue boom also allowed for close to $400 million in improvements for state highways. The oil and gas industry is a benefactor that can provide continued revenue for education, for health care, and for funding state liabilities, such as the $6.6 billion gap in the pension plan.
If the WildEarthers’ court appeal succeeds in forcing a vacating of these leases, it would result in the closure of 31 wells and the sacrifice of all future revenue from their production. It would also require the state of New Mexico to return hundreds of millions of dollars.
The legal assault by the WildEarth Guardians is the modus operandi of the deep-pocketed environmental machine known as Big Green, Inc. Each year, small regional organizations like the WildEarthers pull in checks for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from billion-dollar and centimillion-dollar entities like the New York-based Park Foundation and the Washington DC-based Wyss Foundation, then use that money to harass companies, or in this case, to harass a federal agency for its leasing decisions. Many of them run the same playbook, exploiting language from outdated laws like the National Environmental Policy Act. The WildEarth Guardians are out front in this case, but they are just one of Big Green, Inc.’s multitudinous phalanges.
Setting aside the legal jargon in which Big Green, Inc. and the WildEarthers couch their suits, what they really want is to cut human beings off from the land. They are not concerned by the economic harm their lawsuits would cause to New Mexicans’ livelihoods and to state funding of education, healthcare, and infrastructure—they care only about keeping the Earth wild. When the WildEarth Guardians file these lawsuits, they are not doing so on behalf of New Mexicans, they are filing them against New Mexicans.