(The Center Square) – Some New Mexico politicians are getting caught in a paradox when it comes to the oil and gas industry funding expensive policy proposals.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a plan last year to make New Mexico the first state to offer free public college to its residents. The governor's intent was to pay for it with revenues from the oil and gas industry, which funds 40% of the state’s budget.
At the same time, Lujan Grisham supports presumptive President-elect Joe Biden's clean energy plan. She said she wants to diversify New Mexico's economy by adding more renewable energy jobs. She also wants to tighten regulations on methane emissions in the state, would could lead to massive jobs losses in the oil and gas industry and less tax revenue for the state.
Lujan Grisham's free college tuition plan did not survive 2020, as travel restrictions put in place during the pandemic and a Mideast production war led to a huge glut in oil and gas as well as plummeting prices, leading to a slowdown in the industry.
Larry Behrens, western states director for Power the Future, an organization that aims to improve the national energy conversation, takes issue with the “double standard” of politicians who take the oil and gas industry for granted.
“When they say ‘diversify,’ what they really mean is they want to kill one industry and replace it with others, and those other industries they have selected to replace it with are in no way employing as many New Mexicans as the natural gas industry, and they definitely don’t turn in the revenue that we get from the oil and natural gas industry,” Behrens told The Center Square.
The state has spent millions of dollars trying to lure Hollywood productions into New Mexico, and it gives generous tax breaks to solar energy, but none of these options come close to providing the revenue that oil and gas does, Behrens added.
“The amount of money raised from renewable energy on state lands is 0.01% of the state budget,” Behrens said.
NBC reported that a University of New Mexico student, Jonathon Juarez-Alonzo, described the governor’s tuition-free plan as a “hostage situation” because the future of education would be funded by an industry that Lujan Grisham wants to restrict.
Behrens finds this sentiment echoed by politicians hypocritical.
“It’s really interesting that they want to pick and choose between what is oil and gas funded, but yet they’re more than happy to spend the money when it comes to their direction in Santa Fe,” Behrens said.
“The fact of the matter is, the more [oil and gas] get demonized, the less revenue we have for our state and the less revenue we have to do the things that get put in the budget,” Behrens said, such as free college.