Aug. 29–Oil and gas companies could be asked to help solve southeast New Mexico infrastructure woes if U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-1) is elected governor.
She explained her plans to support the region where extraction grew significantly in the past year, supplying about one third of the New Mexico’s revenue, during a Wednesday campaign stop in Carlsbad at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The race for governor is between Lujan Grisham and Republican Congressman Steve Pearce (R-2). A recent Emerson College showed Pearce polling at 40 percent and Lujan Grisham polling at 42 percent.
She said oilfield communities in the area are an essential part of New Mexico’s economy, and must not be ignored by policy at the state level, regardless of party affiliation.
Lujan Grisham said she hoped to quash the idea that Democrats from northern New Mexico do not care about the needs of the southern portion of the state known for heavy industrial development.
“This notion that it’s so hyper-partisan that no democrats are interested in this community is false,” she said. “It’s absolutely false. We want to dispel that. It should not be so hyper-partisan. It should be about making this community whole.”
Local frustration regarding state revenue supplied by oil development in Eddy County not returning to the region was similar to concerns Lujan Grisham said she’s heard across the state.
“There are a lot of places in this state that feel that way,” she said. “When you pick a winner, you start to walk away. I want the whole state to recognize that this part of the state is shoring us up.”
A ‘balance’ must be struck
Aside from the oil and gas that defines southeast New Mexico’s economy, Lujan Grisham called for more attention to wind energy and other forms of renewable resources.
She said a balance must be struck between the economic boon of the extraction industry, and environmental conservation measures.
As for preserving access to public lands amid the development, she said such drilling leases should be evaluated for their environmental impact on a “case-by-case basis.”
“It’s not a one size fits all. It’s a case-by-case decision,” she said. “We don’t ruin one asset by promoting another. New Mexico can lead the nation in achieve these balances.”
She said her campaign has met with numerous oil and gas industry leaders to discuss how the private companies that develop the land and extract resources from it, can help support the needed infrastructure.
So far, Lujan Grisham said the industry was receptive to pitching in.
“We’ve been meeting with oil and gas a lot, and making it really clear that we need their help,” she said. “And they’re not completely opposed to a number of issues, including that they would participate more directly in fixing these roads, making them safe, figuring out byways and really investing in infrastructure.”
Private business must help pay the auxiliary costs of doing business, she said, to take some of the burden off the local communities and New Mexico.
“We have doubled the number of wells. They need to step up, and they’re not unwilling,” Lujan Grisham said. “Wouldn’t that be better, if they would take responsibility? We have kind of a set of standards in every state including this one, that businesses help us deal with the cost of doing business.”
Developer could receive tax credits or other incentives if they pay for infrastructure, namely roads, Lujan Grisham said.
She pointed to Pearce’s plan to implement toll roads as failing to strike a balance, and forcing everyone to pay.
“What that means to me is that there is no balance, and we’re asking everyone else to make those payments. We’re not trying to push out anyone,” she said. “We’re trying to create a level playing field in this community. We can do more of that, not less. It’s got to be a priority.”
Eddy County roads must be upgraded to keep pace with increasing oilfield traffic during the recent oil boom, Lujan Grisham said, as the price of West Texas Intermediate crude climbed to about $68 per barrel, per NASDAQ records.
She said Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration failed to preplan for what industry officials called “unprecedented” growth.
“These roads were built for bringing commodities for agriculture,” Lujan Grisham said. “They were not built for oil tankers coming into this community. The sooner we deal with that, the safer this community will be. It’s a fact. Before these investments came, we should have been thinking about that.
“Now it’s time to rectify.”
To continue to address southeast New Mexico’s ongoing infrastructure needs, Lujan Grisham suggested creating a State fund earmarked specifically for improvements in the area.
“I think we’re going to have other infrastructure issues to address,” she said. “Those have to be a priority. The fact that they’re not, I think, is actually shameful for the state government.”
Education reform needed
But as the community grows, the youngest and often most vulnerable members must also be supported through education reform, Lujan Grisham said.
She called for more funding to the classrooms, providing adequate supplies and paying teachers competitive wages.
State Sen. Howie Morales (D-28), Lujan Grisham’s running mate and candidate for lieutenant governor, said the impact of inadequate education policy is felt especially in rural communities.
“I’ve seen firsthand the impacts that have taken place,” said Morales, who holds a Ph.D. in education. “We want to send the message to educators across the state that we’re here and we support them.”
Morales said he advocates for less standardized testing, opting instead to tailor education to meet specific student and teacher needs.
But such reform must be a bipartisan effort, he said.
“We need to move away from standardized education, and to individualized education,” he said. “We need to work across party lines to achieve this. The fixes are tough, but I understand what we need to achieve this.”
As lieutenant governor, Morales said his connections and work in the Legislature could prove an advantage for the Lujan Grisham administration.
He said he would target school evaluations, looking to better define how the State’s school grade system is implemented.
Morales sits on the New Mexico’sFinance Committee, and he said he was instrumental in securing $30 million in state funding to remediate the Carlsbad Brine Well.
“My connections will be key to moving Michelle’s agenda forward,” he said. “You’ve got to fix the formula. People have no idea how those (school) grades are devised. There’s a lot more that happens in the classroom other than testing. We need to capture that.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
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