Bowing to Oil Industry, New Mexico Legislators Advance Bill That Fails to Curb Pollution

Organizational Press Release – From The Center for Biological Diversity

Friday, January 26, 2024

SANTA FE, N.M.— The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 6-5 [yesterday] to pass a Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham-backed bill that would impose modest changes on the oil industry in New Mexico, including increased bonds, but that fails to put in place any environmental or public health protections.

Gov. Lujan Grisham’s first executive message of the 2024 legislative session limited consideration of reforms to the Oil and Gas Act to House Bill 133, which legislators advanced today. In doing so, the governor blocked any hearing on other bills that would have established restrictions on the industry.

This effectively killed Rep. Debbie Sariñana’s suite of bills. Those three bills would have established commonsense public and environmental health protections from oil and gas pollution, such as mandatory fines for toxic spills, health buffer zones around schools and a prohibition on using fresh water for fracking.

“This bill utterly fails to impose any real restrictions on the oil industry and does nothing to protect frontline communities from the toxic pollution they’re exposed to every single day,” said Gail Evans, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Gov. Lujan Grisham did our state a grave disservice by blocking bills that would have protected New Mexicans from oil industry pollution. Once again our state’s politicians have surrendered to the oil and gas industry, and the pollution crisis will continue to make our residents sick.”

Frontline community members, Indigenous peoples and youth urged committee members to adopt amendments that would have increased the bill’s public and environmental health protections. Their pleas were ignored before the bill was passed.

“Industry largely wrote this bill. As a result of the exclusion of critical voices throughout the process, the bill lacks necessary protections for Indigenous, frontline and youth communities,” said Ennedith Lopez, policy campaign manager with Youth United for Climate Crisis Action.

“We need our state leaders to stand up for the protection of our health, our land and our precious water.”

The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department convened stakeholders from the oil and gas industry and some environmental and frontline organizations to develop HB 133. Excluded from that process were frontline, Indigenous and youth plaintiffs in Atencio v. State of New Mexico, who have sued the state for failing to live up to its constitutional duty to control oil and gas pollution.

“The plaintiffs in Atencio v. State of New Mexico, including Indigenous, frontline, youth organizations and individuals, were completely excluded from any conversations regarding ways to reform the Oil and Gas Act,” said Julia Bernal, executive director of Pueblo Action Alliance.

“I’m not sure how an administration can be touted as taking climate action when the state doesn’t support basic rules and regulations that protect people’s health and it continues to ignore Indigenous and frontline voices.”

HB 133 will be heard next by the House Judiciary Committee.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

(The Candle has included a copy of the Atencio v. State of New Mexico lawsuit below. If the document appears in landscape view click on the double arrow >> at top right corner to access rotate tool.)