It all started out with promising protections for children’s health and improved financial controls over the oil and gas industry.
The very first Legislative Message Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham sent to the New Mexico House of Representatives was to authorize consideration of House Bill 133, which would, among other important reforms, provide important safeguards for the health of children living and going to school near oil and gas operation.
Representatives Kristina Ortez and Matthew McQueen are the lead sponsors of HB 133, which would improve controls over the oil and gas operations in the state, and provide better guides to prevent companies from walking away without cleaning up their mess.
Very importantly, the bill proposes to create set back requirements for oil and gas operations from schools and similar public places.
But the word on the proverbial street is a substitute measure pushed by oil and gas lobbyists, and a handful of legislators who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the industry, will remove the section of the bill designed to protect children “as their lungs and immune systems are still developing.”
Yesterday, The Candle learned from advocates of the bill and from a legislator that the protective set backs would likely be removed from the substitute in order to get enough votes to pass the bill.
The Democrats control the House and the Senate and the Governor is also a Democrat.
With the Governor’s support for HB 133, which she knew contained the set back requirements designed to protect children from being exposed to polluting oil and gas operations, the Democrats in the House and Senate should be able to get the bill to her desk.
The Democrats have enough votes without any Republicans to pass HB 133 with the set back protections for kids.
So it is obvious that the oil and gas lobby has gotten to some Democrats to hold the bill hostage unless the set back requirements are removed.
Earlier this week, The Candle reached out via email and telephone messages to Representatives Nathan Small, Meredith Dixon, and Cynthia Borrego, all Democrats and members of the Energy Committee which is holding a meeting on HB 133 this morning and at which the substitute is expected to be introduced.
Small is a powerful member of the House and chairs the House Appropriation and Finance Committee.
And Dixon, for years a prolific fundraiser for Democrats before becoming a member of the House, is the vice chair of that same committee.
In those positions, Small and Dixon have a lot of influence over other legislators’ bill that need funding.
Collectively, these three legislators have accepted at least $114,000 from Oil and Gas companies and the industry’s lobbyists in the last two years – more money than other committee members appear to have taken from oil and gas interests.
In the emailed messages The Candle asked each of them if they would confirm or deny, and/or provide an explanation of their actions regarding changes to the bill if they were advocating for the changes.
As of the posting of this story, none of these legislators have responded.
We have essentially invited them to just say no, it’s not them that are putting the industry profits ahead of the health of children – or explain why they think that would be a good idea.
Silence sometimes says so much.
Children, especially children living in poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods predominately made up of people of color, are the victims of the pollution that HB 133, as originally filed, would mitigate through the set back requirements.
While there are other important measures in HB 133 that would give the state more control over the industry, the protections of kids, especially poor and kids of color are being sacrificed to line up the votes of some Democrats.
Bill Jordan, Interim Co-Director and Government Relations Officer for NM Voices for Children, communicated to The Candle via an email from his group that, “It’s important to have setbacks — or distance between active oil and gas wells and places like schools and child care centers — because children are more susceptible to air pollution, as their lungs and immune systems are still developing.
“We know we currently have 28,000 children going to 119 schools and child care centers that are within a half-mile of active oil and gas wells — most of them in San Juan County.”
A report released two days ago by Jordan’s organization, entitled Kids Count Data Book, states “… Fortunately, the effects of poor air quality are not permanent, and for most children, lung function growth and asthmatic symptoms are reduced when they are exposed to cleaner air.”
HB 133, if passed in it’s original form the set back requirements, would provide children living and going to school in neighborhoods near oil and gas operations a fighting chance to improve their health over time.
But it appears a handful of Democrats are willing to take that fighting chance away.
The HOUSE ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, chaired by McQueen, will hold the hearing on HB 133 this morning.
It will be interesting to see the substitute measure, which has not yet been posted, but which should have been available at least 24 hours before the meeting according to the policy of the legislature.
HOUSE ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE
Thursday, January 25, 2024 – 8:30 AM – Room 317
HB 133 OIL & GAS ACT CHANGES (ORTEZ/MCQUEEN)
Please click the link below to join the webinar:
Or One tap mobile :
Webinar ID: 838 5316 210
Any amendments, substitutes, handouts or supplemental information shall be
submitted to [email protected] at least 24 hours before the committee hearing.