Opinion Editorial by Marita K. Noon
Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great Inc.
Contact: 505.239.8998 or firstname.lastname@example.org
State Lands: Protection or Provision?
"I voted for it before I voted against it" was one of the revelations that torpedoed the Kerry Presidential campaign. Voters do not like candidates who change positions for political expediency. Such candidates are called "flip-floppers."
Here in New Mexico, we have a flip-flopper and, regardless of your political persuasion, his actions are troubling.
Ray Powell is running for State Land Commissioner. Most are not aware of this office, but the commissioner's actions directly impact school funding-making it one of the most important positions in the state (especially when education budgets are suffering cuts).
Ray Powell was Land Commissioner for ten years in the 90s. It was under his watch that land known as Otero Mesa was opened up to drilling for oil-and-gas exploration. He did a study and determined that there were some areas that were "too sensitive" for exploration, but that other areas were appropriate. Leases were issued and wells were drilled.
This should outrage those in the environmental community who call the Otero Mesa "wild and beautiful grassland," and say: "It has become a tourism destination." With the support of our Senators and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, environmental groups have launched a campaign to protect the area from the oil-and-gas industry. A movement is underway to turn it into a national monument. Environmentalists believe "It will create a place that more people will take an extra day to visit." In reality, national monument status will lock up the natural resources forever (requiring an act of Congress to open them up). If Ray Powell had never issued those leases, the area would not be in need of protecting.
The political climate today is different than it was ten years ago. Now, Ray Powell declares that he supports turning the Otero Mesa into a national monument. His environmentalist base wants it protected-so he does too.
Ever the politician, Powell giving a straight answer is a challenge. I pressed him: "If the whole national monument thing doesn't go through and the leases expire while you are State Land Commissioner, would you re-lease them?" His answer? "We'd have to do a study." "Didn't you already do a study?" He did. While the land has not changed (and may in fact be more valuable-bringing more money to the state), politics have changed.
While those who are pushing to protect Otero Mesa should be angry with Powell over leasing it in the first place, those who are concerned about New Mexico's economics need to be aware of Powell's priorities. Even though he has personally had a study done and determined that Otero Mesa could support the development of natural resources, he no longer supports that. Otero Mesa is just one locale which represents his anti-development, job killing mindset. While other areas may not have Powell history, his intent is clear-and in total opposition to the mandate of the State Land Office. Ray Powell views the state lands as something in need of protection, not a source for provision of revenue. Rather than adding to the permanent fund, he wants to live off of it.
At a time when New Mexico is badly in need of a cash infusion, we should not be saying "no" to responsible development. We have vast state lands (The State Land Office manages nine million acres of surface estate and 13 million oil, gas and mineral estate held in trust primarily for public schools.) and those lands fund New Mexico's schools-with $567 million being distributed in 2009 to the 21 beneficiaries, the majority goes to public schools. The state trust lands are to "generate the highest possible level of sustainable revenue for New Mexico's public schools, public institutions of higher learning, and other public institutions so that all New Mexicans can enjoy a higher quality of life."
I've been to Otero Mesa. I've stood on the gas wells that were drilled ten years ago. It is no wild and beautiful grassland, and no one will want to go there for a vacation. Despite government land grabs that have destroyed private business and enterprise initiatives, the ranching industry has survived there for 100+ years. There are known natural gas resources, and, more could be discovered if the lands are not locked up. We need a new land designation that doesn't destroy people and business.
Don't elect a flip-flopper who voted for it, before his political masters told him to vote against it.
Marita Noon is the Executive Director of Energy Makes America Great Inc., the advocacy arm of CARE (Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy), the New Mexico nonprofit organization advocating for citizens' right to energy that is abundant, available, and affordable. CARE works on energy issues state, region and nationwide. Find out more at www.EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.
This editorial opinion article is brought to you as a courtesy to Marita Noon, Executive Director of Energy Makes America Great Inc., and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Albuquerque Tea Party.
In addition, if the next land commissioner works with the environmental lobby to get Otero Mesa made into a national monument, the resulting closing of the area to gas well drilling and production will most likely cause the state to have to greatly increase gross receipts taxes on the rest of us in order to make up for the loss of revenues from gas production committed to our public schools.