Oil and gas have been a key issue in the race for New Mexico’s second congressional district, which covers the rural southeastern region of the state containing the Permian Basin oil fields – the fossil fuel region most active in New Mexico and the United States.
Incumbent Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell, a strong supporter of the oil and gas industry, has introduced legislation and advocated since taking office in 2020 to restrict government regulation of fossil fuel production.
But his opponent, former Democratic Las Cruces councilman Gabe Vasquez, said he believes a balance can be struck between the economic benefits of oil and gas to the state and government controls over its impact. environmental.
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Vasquez won the Democratic Party nomination in the June primary election, defeating Lovington doctor Darshan Patel, and will run against Herrell in the November midterm elections.
A pragmatic approach to oil and gas regulation would ensure the state can continue to benefit from its role as the national energy leader, second in the United States in crude oil production, Vasquez said, while opening the way to a transition to low-carbon energy sources. such as wind and solar.
He said industries like hospitality and housing are also supported by oil and gas, and when the market booms and more people are brought to rural areas where fossil fuels are extracted, that means more jobs in a variety of other sectors.
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“I think the oil and gas industry is extremely important to New Mexico. It’s extremely important to this district, and I think it supports an economy that’s not just based on fuel extraction. fossil fuels, but also on the small businesses that support this industry.
Herrell, who was recently named a ranking member of the environment subcommittee on the House Oversight Committee, said the government should stay away from industries like oil and gas, which, according to her, could devise methods to reduce the environmental impact on its own without restrictive government. Politics.
“We’re doing great things and great innovations in America,” she said. “That’s why it’s hard to see that our government, for me it’s deliberate, is slowing things down. It will complicate things. We are not thinking clearly. Some of these policies take us backwards, not forwards.
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She said the United States must seek “energy independence” and not rely on foreign sources of fossil fuels which she says have been developed with less attention to environmental impacts than in the United States. highlighting the targets recently announced by major oil companies to reduce their emissions.
“We all take the fossil fuel industry for granted, the products that come out of this space,” Herrell said. “Let’s take our energy to where it’s cleaner and better for the environment. We are not ready to go all green.
If he beats Herrell in November, Vasquez said he would focus on “oil and gas workers,” as opposed to past policies that he says only served to prop up big multinational corporations making money. business in New Mexico.
“My approach is that we cannot line the pockets of corporations and CEOs at the expense of the health of communities,” he said. “In Congress, I want to hold oil and gas companies accountable for not making some of the investments that I think they should be making to reduce methane emissions.”
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He said recently high energy prices, such as gas prices paid at the pump, have pushed up profits for fossil fuel companies, but consumers across the state and nation are having a hard time. wrongfully suffered.
A strong market and high profits, Vasquez said, meant now was the time for energy companies to increase investment in pollution controls and initiatives to reduce their environmental impacts.
“It’s completely irresponsible for oil and gas companies not to make these changes,” Vasquez said.
He also pointed to the royalty rates companies pay to operate in the state, saying they should be increased to send more oil and gas revenues to the state and federal government for the benefit of their constituents.
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The recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act raised federal royalty rates from 12.5% to 16.6%, which Vasquez said was necessary to ensure taxpayers a “fair share” of oil profits in their state.
“I want to make sure New Mexico gets its fair share of industry revenue,” he said. “New Mexicans deserve their fair share, that means our workers, our small businesses, and the royalty rates they pay to our state and federal government must match what CEOs and shareholders profit from.
“We can protect our environment and make sure that oil and gas CEOs and society are not able to buy that congressional seat to keep getting rich.”
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Protecting the environment and the people of New Mexico, Vasquez said, could also mean looking at other industries like the nuclear sector, as Holtec International has offered to build a facility near Carlsbad and Hobbs designed to temporarily contain the rods. used nuclear fuel.
The project was supported by local southeast city and county governments, but was publicly opposed by state leaders and Democratic congressmen in New Mexico, as well as a similar proposal in Andrews, in Texas, which was opposed by lawmakers from both parties in that state.
Opponents feared that since the United States does not have a permanent repository for this waste, the Holtec site could store it forever despite not being designed to do so.
Herrell, in a recent interview with the Current-Argus, balked at supporting the Holtec project herself amid bipartisan opposition.
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Vasquez was more adamant in his own criticism and was on the Las Cruces City Council when he voted down a resolution to support the project in 2018, and pointed to the state’s history in the nuclear industry and the severe effects on the health of radioactive mining in the northern region. and nuclear weapons testing in south-central New Mexico at the Trinity Test Site.
“I think it’s not temporary and it would essentially become the permanent home of the whole country’s highly radioactive waste,” he said. “I’m not sure we wanted to do that in New Mexico.
“I don’t think we want to continue on this trajectory of being a dumping ground for nuclear waste.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.