Among WQCC Members Expected to Decide Produced Water Rule: Oil Biz Executive; and Three State Employees Given Big Pay Raises in the Days Leading to NMED Filing Rule

Three state employees who sit on the commission received annual pay raises ranging from $12,376 to $27,622, months prior to Kenney’s agency filing the controversial rules change

This morning, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission is expected to begin its hearings on Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s and Environment Department Secretary James Kenney’s controversial proposed “Produced Water” rule.

The New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission is essentially controlled by the Governor, Kenney, and a handful of Lujan Grisham’s executive leadership – they appoint the majority of the fourteen members of the commission.

Three state employees who sit on the commission received annual pay raises ranging from $12,376 to $27,622, months prior to Kenney’s agency filing the controversial rules change which would allow heavily polluted water from fracking operations to be reused in agriculture, manufacturing and hydrogen production.

The proposal has been challenged by most environmental advocacy groups in New Mexico.

The oil and gas industry in New Mexico has been advocating strongly for the Produced Water proposal that Lujan Grisham and Kenney and Democratic legislative leaders like Representatives Nathan Small and Meredith Dixon have championed.

According to Four Corners Economic Development, “Krista McWilliams is the current Engineering Operations Manager for Logos Resources, LLC, a local, Farmington based oil and gas company.

Her husband, Jay Paul McWilliams, is the CEO and/or manager member of various oil related entities identified with Logos.

Between them, the McWilliams receive income and royalties from oil and gas engineering and operations management as well as from consulting with major oil companies, including providing “support for local and national clients including ConocoPhillips, LINN Energy, Pioneer Resources and Logos Resources.”

New Energy Economy, the Center for Biological Diversity, and WildEarth Guardians filed a motion late Friday afternoon requesting that the Water Quality Control Commission (“WQCC”) cancel the hearing scheduled to begin tomorrow, because of alleged failures of several Commission members to properly file financial disclosures.

“None of the appointed WQCC members filed their respective financial disclosure statements after their appointment and prior to making the decision on January 9, 2024 to hold a hearing in this Fracking Waste Reuse Rule case,” the groups wrote in a press release yesterday, regarding the filing of their motion to cancel the hearing and start the process properly.

The Candle Found the Following Large Pay Raises Given to State Employees on WQCC

Jonas Armstrong – Salary went from $99,632 to $112,008 – an increase of $12,376 a year.

Armstrong is Vice Chair of the WQCC, Jonas Armstrong, and was appointed by Secretary Kenney in March of 2023.

Kenney not only appointed Armstrong to the WQCC as his NMED designee, Kenney is his agency boss.

Armstrong is what is referred to as a GovX state employee at NMED, meaning he serves at the pleasure of the executive – namely, Governor Lujan Grisham.

Kenney included an interesting caveat in Armstrong’s appointment letter, writing,

“The new appointment will become effective as of March 28, 2023, or at the next regular meeting of the Commission. As NMED fills various leadership positions, I may revisit my designee to the WQCC towards the end of FY23.” (Emphasis added)

About a month or so before the new NMED proposed Produced Water rule was filed with the WQCC, Armstrong was given the $12,376 raise.

Two other state employees who sit on the WQCC on behalf of a state government entity also received large pay raises months before the filing of the Governor’s and Kenney’s proposed Produced Water rule.

Gerasimos “Gerry” Razatos is the NM Oil Conservation Commission Designee on the Commission.

Razatos saw his pay increase from $123,968 to $136,364 – an increase of $12,396 a year.

While Razatos’ employee status is not described as Govx appointment, this increase was provided at a rate more than 10%, while state employees were receiving much less of an increase.

Toby Velasquez, however is a GovX employee and he received the biggest of the raises handed out to three of the WQCC members who are also state employees.

According to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, Velasquez “was appointed Director of State Parks in July 2021.”

When appointed the Director of State Parks in 2021, Velasquez received an appropriate pay increase for the promotion.

But between January 2023 and July 2023, he saw his yearly pay increase from $120,764 to $139,984 receiving a pay raise of more than $19,000, and a few months later Velasquez saw his pay soar to $148,387 – essentially he saw his annual pay increase by $27,600 in the months before NMED filed its Produced Water rule change in December,