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MON: Education, environment advocates warn about instability of oil and gas revenue, + More

Oil and gas

Education, environment advocates warn about instability of oil and gas revenue - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico 
The oil and gas industry is excelling in New Mexico, leading to significant money for the state and public education. But the industry operates in a boom-and-bust cycle, and education and environmental advocates say officials need to find ways to diversify this revenue so the state and its schools don’t suffer in bust years.

Oil and gas usually generates over $2 billion for the state, making up 25% to 30% of New Mexico’s General Fund, according to the Legislative Finance Committee. That’s where public schools pull most of their funding. Oil and gas money also flows to the Land Grant Permanent Fund, another source of public education revenue.

Public schools typically get over $1.4 billion from the industry, according to a 2021 New Mexico Oil and Gas Association report

Higher education also benefits from these extractive industries, which generated over $262 million for institutions throughout the state in 2021, according to the report. UNM campuses alone received more than $100 million.

Oil and gas has been a point of debate with the General Election just a month away, especially within the gubernatorial race. Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said issues in education funding go beyond any one election, and officials and New Mexicans need to think about how they can best set up future generations.

“We have massive needs in our state and in our schools, in our families that are really generational problems to solve. They’re not election-cycle problems to solve,” Wallin said.

When the oil and gas industry isn’t doing well, education is underfunded, Wallin said, and there’s a general unwillingness to invest in schools because of the revenue’s instability.

“So what we really need to see,” she said, “is long-term, consistent, significant investments in our classrooms and in our kids and in our teachers, to really see those educational outcomes begin to improve.”


The state is heavily reliant on what Wallin described as “a volatile stream of revenue.”

Cyclically, there are big years with major demand and rising prices — like the state is seeing now — that lead to low years of overproduction. Economist Kelly O’Donnell said these busts are just as severe as the booms for the state and should be kept in mind, especially given that state obligations such as public education depend so heavily on that revenue.

O’Donnell has worked for the state and federal government on public finance around natural resources. She said although there are benefits to the state’s successful oil and gas periods — like New Mexicans paying lower taxes — the state can’t really control the industry. Factors like the war in Ukraine, how the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries regulates fossil fuel and rates, and even the weather can sway the industry’s success for good or bad, she said.

“We’re relying on it for public education, health care, public safety — all of these things we really can’t afford to have uncertainty about,” O’Donnell said.

The state has attempted to stabilize the revenue but needs to continue diversifying funding, O’Donnell said. One way the state has tried to control funding is through the General Fund reserves, which act as safeguards during shortfalls of revenue, according to the Legislative Finance Committee. When there’s excess oil and gas revenue, some of it goes into the reserves. In 2021, the school tax on oil and gas companies generated $335 million for the stabilization reserve.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers approved a record budget due to a surplus of billions in oil and gas revenue. And Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos) said the Legislature could approve a few billion more dollars in state funding in the next session, with two-thirds of that projected revenue coming from oil and gas.

Still, she stressed the need to generate other revenue.


Jeremy Nichols is the climate and energy program director of WildEarth Guardians. He said the industry costs the state more than people think, not just in terms of money. He pointed to the negative effects on New Mexico’s land and people’s health. Just the ozone pollution produced, he said, leads to smog and can trigger health issues that can send people to the hospital.

“Those costs are borne by New Mexicans and not by the oil and gas industry, not by oil and gas companies,” Nichols said. “And unfortunately, those costs are not factored into assessments of whether the oil and gas industry is truly delivering for the state of New Mexico.”

Oil and gas companies are also worsening the climate crisis, Nichols said. Production in the state, he added, causes major carbon dioxide and methane leaks. And when it’s shipped out of state and burned and consumed, it contributes greatly to pollution and global warming, he said.

“They’re the ones fueling the crisis,” Nichols said. “They’re fueling the problem.”

After the largest wildfire in the state’s history roared through northern New Mexico this summer amid a historic drought in the southwest, Wallin said the state needs to take a serious look at its own contributions to climate change — which intensifies and multiplies wildfires — and how New Mexico is getting revenue.

O’Donnell said she suspects that global warming will eventually force the state to wean off oil and gas. “I think the consequences of climate change are really going to necessitate a rethinking of a lot of how we power the U.S.,” she said.


Oil and gas is a limited resource. According to the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere at Stanford, oil will run out in 30 years and gas in 40, though there are about 50 years’ worth of reserves left that have already been extracted when current consumption rates are factored in.

This limited supply is why diversification is necessary, O’Donnell said.

“Although this election isn’t going to impact oil and gas production in New Mexico, being prepared for a future with less oil and gas is really important,” O’Donnell said.

The transition away from fossil fuels won’t happen overnight, Wallin said, but needs to happen nonetheless.

“That’s critical to not just our state’s financial stability, and to stability and adequacy for education funding, but it’s also critical because we know that long-term that the oil and gas industry will not be around forever,” Wallin said.

But given how successful the industry is right now, some disagree with weaning off of it. One argument against limiting oil and gas production in New Mexico is that it will hurt schools in the short-term. Catherine Brijalba, a sixth-grade teacher in Lea County, said in an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican that without oil and gas revenue, schools would lose significant funding, and her students’ parents would lose their jobs.

But Wallin said there are other ways the state can raise money for public education. For example, she said, a more stable form of revenue could stem from making sure that wealthy individuals are paying their fair share of taxes. O’Donnell suggested that renewable energy production could also generate money and jobs for the state.

Source NM talked to University of New Mexico students on its main campus about their thoughts on oil and gas funding in higher education, and many weren’t sure how $100 million at UNM could be replaced.

David McCreath, an art student applying for graduate school at UNM, said the state should be pulling away from fossil fuel usage. Reducing federal governmental subsidies would mean oil and gas costs more for everyone and could lessen usage overall.

But it’s difficult to do, he said, because the U.S. is so dependent on it, from driving cars to funding education, like at UNM.

“It’s a public university. It’s intended to be affordable and accessible to everyone,” McCreath said. “$100 million is not nothing.”

Math major Raul Martinez said free education is more important to him than decreasing oil and gas production at the end of the day.

But freshman Chloe Dugan said UNM either shouldn’t accept that money or use it to emphasize Indigenous voices, the third-leading ethnicity at the university, because of harms and disruptions by the industry on tribal land.

She said it’s a good idea to move toward renewable energy sources but that the state should be careful, because those companies will “lust for money,” just like oil and gas companies.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Public Lands Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard are at least making strides to use renewable energy resources, as well as protect the land, O’Donnell said.

“If those two were re-elected, there would be a stronger emphasis on responsible land stewardship than there’s likely to be with their opponents,” she said.

Still, she said, “Nobody is going to change, again, the amount of money we’re getting in revenue from oil and gas.”

AG is among 4 finalists for Northern New Mexico College post - Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is one of four finalists being considered for president of Northern New Mexico College, according to media reports. Balderas is leaving office at the end of this year.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that another finalist is Dr. Patricia Trujillo, the deputy secretary of the state's Higher Education Department and who hails from Española Valley.

The other two finalists are from outside New Mexico: Dr. Bruno G. Hicks, vice president of academic affairs at Dalton State College in Georgia, and Dr. David L. Johns, president of Ferrum College in Virginia.

Barbara Medina has led Northern New Mexico College on an interim basis since the departure of Rick Bailey, who left in January to become president of Southern Oregon University.

Balderas, 49, served two terms as state auditor before moving on to the attorney general's office, and was elected in 2014 and 2018. He is a graduate of New Mexico Highlands University and the University of New Mexico Law School.

Trujillo, a graduate of New Mexico State University, has been an associate professor of English/Chicano studies at Northern since 2010 and was the college's director of equity and diversity from 2013-20.

She was appointed by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as deputy secretary of the Higher Education Department in 2020 and supervises six of nine divisions including academic policy, adult education and information technology.

Hicks is high-ranking administrator at Dalton State, a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution, while Johns has been president at Ferrum College since 2018.

3 teens arrested in fatal shooting of 52-year-old Taos woman - Associated Press

Three teenagers have been arrested as suspects in the fatal shooting of a 52-year-old woman at her home in Taos.

The three male teens from the Taos area, two 14-year-olds and a 16-year-old, have been booked into a juvenile detention center on suspicion of first-degree murder, the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau said Friday.

They also face charges of conspiracy, aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, police said.

The victim of Wednesday's shooting was identified as Shirley Reyes. Her 19-year-old son also was shot in what court records indicate may have been a plan to burglarize the home on La Luz Drive. The son was taken to a local hospital where his condition was unknown, police said.

Police responded to the residence shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday after the 19-year-old knocked on a neighbor's door and reported he and his mother had been shot, the investigations bureau said.

Later that morning, one of the suspects was brought by his parents to the New Mexico State Police office in Taos. Another was located that afternoon and taken into custody, police said.

The third was brought to the NMSP office in Taos by his family on Friday, police said.

It wasn't immediately clear if they have lawyers or when they will appear in court.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Friday that court documents provided by the state Administrative Office of the Courts said the teens are accused of entering Reyes' residence with a plan to rob it.

Families separated at border push back on new evaluations - By Lindsay Whitehurst Associated Press

Parents suing after being separated from their children at the U.S-Mexico border are pushing back against a Justice Department effort to require additional psychological evaluations to measure how much the U.S. policy traumatized them, court documents show.

The effect of the Trump-era policy that was maligned as inhumane by political and religious leaders worldwide has been unusually well-documented, and it's unfair to require parents to undergo another round of testing now, attorneys argue in court documents filed Thursday.

One woman testified about sobbing as her 7-year-old daughter was taken from her for what turned out to be more than two months, court documents show. Thousands of children were separated from their parents; some have still not been reunited.

The migrants seeking compensation have already undergone other evaluations, but the Justice Department said last month that testing from a government-chosen expert is necessary since the parents are alleging permanent mental and emotional injuries.

Psychological evaluations from both sides are routine in emotional-damages claims, but the parents' lawyers say the government has dragged out the process, adding that testing would be emotionally and logistically fraught, including taking off work and find childcare on low-wage salaries.

The effects of the family separations have been thoroughly explored, including by government investigators who found children separated from their parents showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said during his campaign that the policies were "an outrage, a moral failing and a stain on our national character."

Former President Donald Trump stopped the practice in June 2018 amid widespread condemnation, just days before a judge ordered an end to the program in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Parents studied by Physicians for Human Rights, a nonprofit collective of doctors that works to document human rights violations, exhibited suicidal thoughts and suffered a raft of problems including nightmares, depression, anxiety, panic, worry and difficulty sleeping.

The Justice Department isn't asking for the children to be re-evaluated now, but is reserving the right to do so later if necessary. A judge will eventually decide, possibly within weeks, whether to require the new evaluations.

The requests came in two cases filed by 11 families. Nearly two dozen similar cases are pending in other courts, and some have already submitted to government-requested psychiatric evaluations. In one southern Florida case, a father and child agreed to the same examination, one that federal attorneys say is well within what's considered appropriate.

There is a separate legal effort to reunite other families, and there are still hundreds who have not been brought back together. The Biden administration has formed a task force that has reunited roughly 600 families.

The two sides had been negotiating a settlement, but talks broke down after early proposal of $450,000 per person was reported and heavily criticized by Republicans.

Trump's "zero tolerance" policy meant that any adult caught crossing the border illegally would be prosecuted for illegal entry. Because children cannot be jailed with their family members, families were separated and children were taken into custody by Health and Human Services, which manages unaccompanied children at the border. No system was created to reunite children with their families.

Michigan GOP statewide candidates stick to far-right message - By Joey Cappelletti Associated Press/Report For America

With voting underway in Michigan's general election, the Republican nominee for secretary of state stepped on stage as a warm-up act for former President Donald Trump and hit hard on the main theme of her campaign.

Kristina Karamo repeated unfounded assertions about the 2020 presidential election that have been repeatedly debunked. She told the crowd at the recent rally at Macomb Community College that "authoritarians" are giving millions to her Democratic opponent — Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson — in an attempt to "corrupt battleground state election systems so they can control America."

"If you look at history, it shows you what tyrants do," said Karamo, a former community college professor. "History is telling us, history is screaming to us, that if we don't step up and fight now, we will lose the greatest country in human history."

It was an address designed to rev up the crowd of devoted Trump followers, some of whom have latched onto the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.

While Karamo's speech drew cheers, relying on a general election strategy that appeals to the most far-right voters is a gamble for Michigan Republicans.

Candidates who have to play to their party's base during primaries or nominating conventions often shift toward the center, aiming to attract more voters for the general election. But that hasn't happened this year for the Republicans seeking Michigan's top three statewide offices — governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

The Nov. 8 election will test whether campaigns designed to resonate with the far-right and highlight strong ties to Trump will be enough to win in a traditional swing state, where the Republican incumbent lost the White House race to Democrat challenger Joe Biden by more than 154,000 votes in 2020.

All three GOP candidates stood behind Trump during the Oct. 1 rally at the college about 20 miles north of Detroit, joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has amplified Trump's election falsehoods to audiences across the country.

Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was "rigged and stolen" in Michigan, citing "evidence" he said first originated with Karamo and Matthew DePerno, a tax lawyer who is the nominee for state attorney general.

In his own address to the crowd, DePerno called Democrats "radical, cultural Marxists" who want to "silence you."

"If that doesn't work, they want to put you in jail," DePerno told the crowd, which fell into chants of "Lock her up." All three Democratic incumbents are women.

DePerno's campaign also is clouded by an investigation into whether he should be criminally charged for attempting to gain access to voting machines after the 2020 election.

John DeBlaay, a Grand Rapids real estate agent and precinct delegate who attended the rally, said he was thrilled with the candidates. "We've got the best America First ticket all the way from top to bottom that we've had in a long time now," he said.

Some moderate Republicans are skeptical that campaigns appealing mostly to base elements of the party will be enough to beat Democratic incumbents with wide name recognition and sizable fundraising advantages. The Democrats also are expected to benefit from having an amendment on the ballot that seeks to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution.

These Republicans say inflation, gas prices and economic anxiety should be the GOP's main talking points, not a continued alignment with Trump and his false claims about widespread fraud costing him reelection.

They point to the unusual way Michigan selects its attorney general and secretary of state candidates, a process done through a party nominating convention rather than through a primary election in which voters make the choice.

The most conservative Republicans who are loyal to Trump dominated that convention in April. The party's co-chair, Meshawn Maddock, was one of 16 Republicans who submitted false certificates stating they were the state's presidential electors despite Biden's certified victory in the state.

Three weeks before the convention, during another Trump rally, DePerno encouraged attendees — many of them precinct delegates — to "storm" the party gathering and said it was "time for the grassroots to unite."

Delegates overwhelmingly voted to nominate Karamo. DePerno won a runoff over former legislative leader Tom Leonard, who lost in the 2018 attorney general's race by 3 percentage points to Democrat Dana Nessel.

"Karamo and DePerno are among the most loyal to Donald Trump that you will find anywhere in the country," said Jason Roe, a longtime Republican strategist. "That loyalty has been unshakable in this election process, regardless of how it might affect general election prospects."

Roe, whose father served as the Michigan GOP's executive director for 10 years, became executive director of the state party in spring 2021. Six months later, he stepped down due to a "difference in opinion on how many conspiracy theories we should tolerate."

Soon after Roe left, Trump began calling party leaders to "force the party to embrace things formally that weren't going to be helpful to the upcoming election," Roe said.

The party's candidate for governor, Tudor Dixon, won the nomination during the primary in August after receiving Trump's endorsement. Dixon, a conservative news show host who once acted in low-budget horror films, also benefited from support of the wealthy DeVos family.

While seen as less extreme than Karamo and DePerno, Dixon indicated during debates that she thought the 2020 presidential election was stolen and she recently made light of a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. Dixon has since tried to pivot away from denying the results of the last election by focusing on topics such as inflation and education, but she also is repeating hard-right rhetoric on cultural issues.

She has called for banning "pornographic" books in schools and has pitched an education agenda modeled after the Florida policy that critics have labeled "Don't Say Gay."

While Democrats have attacked DePerno and Karamo for their continued denial of Biden's victory in 2020, they have focused on what they describe as Dixon's "extreme" abortion stance. Lackluster fundraising has made it difficult for her to push back.

As of Aug. 22, Dixon had $524,000 in the bank compared with Whitmer's $14 million, according to the latest available campaign finance reports. Some of that gap has been closed by the super PAC Michigan Families United, which has received $2.5 million in donations, including from the DeVos family.

"I just don't like that there's no commercials on TV about Dixon. Everything you see is about the other people, and it's all negative," said Laura Bunting, an Ionia County resident who attended the Trump rally.

Karamo and DePerno had a combined $422,554 cash on hand as of Sept. 16 compared with the $5.7 million combined for their Democratic opponents, according to campaign finance reports.

Michigan-based pollster Bernie Porn said the Republican candidates have been defined by their extreme stances but that none has attracted enough money to get on TV and introduce themselves to a broader swath of voters. That, he said, "makes it difficult for folks to form a favorable opinion of you."