A crowd gathers to listen to Gov. Martinez speak at a press conference at San Juan College on Monday afternoon in Farmington.
A crowd gathers to listen to Gov. Martinez speak at a press conference at San Juan College on Monday afternoon in Farmington. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said the proposed $300 million freight railroad that could be used to export coal from the Four Corners region south to Gallup would be one of her priorities if the stakeholders can identify specific obstacles that the state has the ability to remove.

"Show us how we can encourage and help," Deputy Chief of Staff Scott Darnell said.

Monday, Martinez visited The Daily Times after a news conference about health care at San Juan College, and she answered questions about Four Corner's energy development.

In the next three to four years, the San Juan Generating Station will shut down two of its four coal-burning stacks. The Four Corners Power Plant will close three of its five coal-burning stacks, too. As a result, the area's two coal mines -- Navajo Mine and San Juan Mine -- will need new markets.

Martinez said those markets could be found globally, and a freight rail could carry coal to the ports.

"We may at some point not have a need for that coal," she said of the local power plants.

New Mexico is also updating its energy policy, which has not been substantially changed since 1991. Dave Martin, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, visited Farmington on Nov. 13 to hear suggestions of locals involved in coal, natural gas, crude oil and energy production.

Martinez said her administration has created several incentives for companies interested in energy development and export.

Her administration revised the "pit rule," which required oil and gas companies to haul away all drilled soil to a separate pit, a process that cost the companies about $200,000 to $250,000 per well, she said. Martinez said the rule was driving companies out of the state.

The revision does not require companies to haul the soil as far, reducing costs, she said.

Gov. Martinez, left, Sen. Steve Neville, center, and Suzanne Smith await a news conference at San Juan College on Monday.
Gov. Martinez, left, Sen. Steve Neville, center, and Suzanne Smith await a news conference at San Juan College on Monday. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

And the state does not tax companies exporting products anymore, she said. Also, the state cut business tax rates from 7.6 percent to 5.9 percent, Darnell said.

Martinez said her administration reduced the time it takes for oil and natural gas companies to receive drilling permits. The permits used to sit stacked high in boxes. Now, companies wait less than 10 days, she said.

Companies are waiting about 220 days to get an answer from the Bureau of Land Management, she said, adding, "What better way to destroy a company."

Public health and safety are still protected under the more rapid permitting process, she said, and she believes there is adequate opportunity for public comment.

"We have not been shy in fining any company for not complying with the regulations," Martinez said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @Dan_J_Schwartz on Twitter.