Reader View: In the governor’s waning days, time for a new approach

December 11, 2016

Gov. Susana Martinez’s economic and environmental agenda has failed. The electorate recognized that failure this year and elected Democratic majorities in both the state House and Senate. Now it’s up to Democrats to send Gov. Martinez bills that offer her a chance, in her last two years, to try something new.

Gov. Martinez spent years and lots of state money rolling back environmental rules passed by the previous administration and defending rules written for industry. She pinned her hopes on high oil and gas profits unencumbered by state oversight and unbridled by taxes.

Out of the gate, Martinez fought to roll back the state’s rule to cut carbon pollution and even killed the building code designed to save homeowners money on their utility bills. She let the oil and gas industry write its own waste storage rule, one that woefully failed to protect waterways and the public interest. Meanwhile, she spent precious little time enforcing laws on the books, or even giving state agencies the tools they need to do their jobs.

Analysis in 2013 showed the state had brought exactly zero enforcement actions and levied zero fines against the oil and gas industry in the three years since Gov. Martinez was elected, despite finding 3,600 violations. A 2009 case undermined the state’s ability to levy penalties, and after six years in office, Gov. Martinez hasn’t even tried to fix the problem.

Gov. Martinez hitched her wagon to a fossil fuel economy in New Mexico, but she did nothing to make sure the state would get its fair share of those revenues. If oil and gas are keys to economic development, why do we have lease and royalty rates lower than Texas, based on decades-old statutes? Why didn’t we pass a rule to limit gas waste in drilling and pipelines, like Colorado? On top of all that, Martinez pushed through a corporate tax cut that is now making it almost impossible to balance the budget as oil and gas revenue craters.

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, you would hardly know that clean energy is booming across the country. Renewable energy is seeing record low prices. Solar prices have fallen 78 percent since 2009 and wind power now costs less than continuing to operate most existing coal plants in the West. Nationally, energy efficiency and renewable energy create more jobs than oil, gas and coal combined, but utilities in New Mexico are only saving energy at half the rate of their counterparts in Arizona, and the state’s renewable target is half that of leading states such as Oregon.

Gov. Martinez is facing her last full legislative session as governor. The state faces mounting deficits and her hopes for trickle-down economics from an unregulated oil and gas sector have failed. Now the Democrats have an opportunity to lead the state toward a more diverse and robust economy, one focused on investing in people protecting our natural resources. Expected Democratic Senate and House leaders Peter Wirth and Brian Egolf must rally their members to power the state with renewable energy — update the building code and make utilities invest more (and more effectively) in energy efficiency. New Mexicans would save both energy and money. Legislators should roll back the corporate tax cut rather than cut funding to schools. They should pass a state law to cut waste from the gas industry and increase the statutory royalty and lease rates for oil and gas from state lands to better reflect market rates — and pay for early childhood education.

To deserve their majorities, the Democrats must offer Gov. Martinez one last chance to step away from her failed vision of an oil economy. If she fails to sign on, her legacy of failure will be complete.

Noah Long is senior attorney of the Natural Resources Defense Council.