Last month, Mora County, N.M., became the first in the nation to vote for permanent poverty. Its unemployment is double that of most of the country and nearly 500% greater than that of other parts of the state. And 23.8% of Mora County's residents live in poverty.
You'd think that the Mora County Commissioners would welcome the jobs that are boosting the economy in the southeastern part of the state. Instead, they voted, to pass an ordinance that permanently bans oil and gas drilling.Defending his vote, Chairman John Olivas, explained: "We need to create other jobs. First, sustainable agriculture; second, business development; and third, eco-tourism to keep people on the land."Frank Trambley, the County GOP chairman, disagrees: "In our economic climate, we cannot afford to throw the possibility for jobs down the drain." Currently, Mora County has no oil and gas activity - and now it looks like it never will (though the outcome of potential lawsuits could change that). But there is reason to believe that the potential for development and jobs is there. Shell Oil has 100,000 acres leased for development. Colfax County, next door, has 950 natural gas wells.But this story is bigger than the sparsely populated northeastern New Mexico County. Following the passage of their "ban" ordinance, the two "yes" vote commissioners sent a letter to all the county commissioners in the state: "We're sending you this letter to urge you to consider adopting a similar law. In Mora, we decided that 'fracking,' along with other forms of oil and gas drilling are not compatible with Mora farming, forestry, and our quality of life." How did Mora come to believe that it might become the little county that could "force" change aimed at "restoring democratic control of our communities." They had the help of an out-of-state environmental group: the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) - which helped draft Mora's "Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance." Thomas Linzey, executive director of CELDF explained: "This is the fight that people have been too chicken to pick over the last 10 years." The CELDF press release on the ban states: "Mora is joining a growing people's movement for community and nature's rights" and brags about CELDF's involvement in other communities across the country.The Mora Commissioners' letter - on County letterhead - encourages all other New Mexico Commissioners to join them and invites participation in a gathering "hosted by a new group, the New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights (NMCCR) which was formed this past year to begin to change how our system here in New Mexico functions." Kathleen Dudley, a "community organizer" and CELDF staffer, is the "contact person for that event."Wayne Johnson, a Bernalillo County Commissioner, alerted me to the Mora letter that may be in violation of the state's code of conduct-to which every elected official is subject. Johnson told me: "I believe I would at least be violating the spirit of the law if I sent out a letter on Bernalillo County letterhead that directly promotes the political activities of a specific group. Imagine the uproar that would be caused if I sent out-at taxpayers' expense-a letter promoting an NRA conference or a Right to Life meeting. The First Amendment guarantees the right to express their political opinion. However using government resources to do so is inappropriate."
The letter also includes this: "You may be unaffected by fracking and oil and gas drilling in your county." Wrong. There is no county in New Mexico that is "unaffected." In response to the letter, Greg Nibert, Chairman of the Chaves County Commission, shot back: "The oil and gas producing counties bear more than 40% of the entire state budget. We send money to Santa Fe that pays for educating the children of New Mexico. It is difficult to swallow that a county that may be blessed with such rich resources would enact such an ordinance." Along with the other counties in the region, the Chaves County Commissioners plan to send a "strong letter in opposition to the Mora County Commission letter."
If the other counties followed Mora's lead and banned fracking and/or oil and gas development, the state would lose 33,000 jobs. The states' budget would be short a combined $5.73 billion dollars of investment. The majority of New Mexico's 50,000-plus wells have used hydraulic fracturing for decades. Olivas believes Mora County is prepared. "What we're doing to prepare ourselves is signing with a legal firm to represent us. At the next County Commissioner meeting, we will sign a retainer with the firm." It is reported that CELDF is the firm - charging $1 for representation, and that Mora County is working to establish a fund to pay the living and travel expenses involved in representation.I believe government closest to the people is the best. But, when an out-of-state entity is driving an issue - that is not the true voice of the locals.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE).