New Mexico's oil and gas surplus could fund land conservation projects if bill passes

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Money raised through oil and gas operations by the State of New Mexico could be earmarked for an environmental restoration project and other conservation efforts, if lawmakers pass a state senate bill introduced in the 2020 Legislative session.

Senate Bill 102, sponsored by New Mexico Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-17) and Sen. Steven Neville (R-2), was moved to the Senate Committees as of Friday.

Also known as the New Mexico Agriculture and Natural Resources Trust Fund Act, SB 102 would direct a portion of New Mexico oil and gas revenue surplus into a permanent endowment fund to support projects throughout the state intended to conserve natural resources such as water and native habitats.

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A coalition of conservation and environmental groups voiced their support of the bill, calling on the state to better preserve the environment and wildlife.

Debbie Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts said the efforts were essential to preserving New Mexico’s public lands and associated industries such as agriculture.

“Soil and water conservation and restoration is critical to the future of New Mexico,” Hughes said. “It’s critical to a thriving economy and a high quality of life for all of us. Like anything else we value, we need to invest in it.

“This bill takes a temporary windfall from oil and gas development and turns it into a permanent funding solution to conserve and enhance our state’s precious agricultural and natural resources.”

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Lesli Allison, executive director at the Western Landowners Alliance said New Mexico must find a way to provide adequate matching funds to receive federal grant funding for conservation efforts.

The coalition estimated that at least $20 million in private, federal, and donation funding could be leveraged annually with higher state investment.

“New Mexico passes up millions of dollars a year in available federal grants for lack of state matching funds,” Allison said. “The Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund Act will help landowners in New Mexico access these opportunities for everyone’s benefit.”

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Where would the money go?

If passed, SB 102 would create a permanent fund to provide grants to organizations undertaking myriad conservation initiatives.

State dollars used in the fund would be appropriated, via grants, to the Office of the Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust.

It would also appropriate $150 million to the fund in fiscal year 2021, and another $200,000 for the operations of the Office.

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The money in the trust fund could support projects in water enhancement, conservation of land and wildlife, and enhancements of habitats.

It could also be used to fund work to improve or maintain existing habitat in supporting wildlife populations and habitats impacted by oil and gas developments.

Reducing disease transmission among livestock and wildlife could also be funded under the Act, along with eradicating invasive species.

More:Oil and gas generated $3.1 billion in state revenue last year

Funding for prescribed burns that reduce the risk of wildfire, and restoring watersheds impacted by wildfires could also be provided by the Fund, as could projects promote soil and rangeland health and staffing needed to carry out the agenda of the Act, read the bill.

The fund would not be allowed to be used for reintroducing any native or native species, or for the state to acquire property or water rights.

Who would oversee the program?

The bill would also establish the Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, consisting of nine members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the New Mexico Senate, to oversee carrying out the provisions of the Act.

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Members would be sent from each of New Mexico’s major hydrological regions.

“Board members shall reflect a broad spectrum of experience, including in local government; agriculture, including irrigated agriculture and livestock production; energy and mining; land conservation; fish and wildlife management; and watershed management,” read the bill.

Members of the board would serve six-year terms.

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The governor would have the power to remove any board members for misconduct, incompetence or neglect of duty, read the bill, and replace them.

The board would be required to meet at least quarterly.

It would establish the grant funding program, approving applicants and adopting criteria for grants and matching funds.

A report would be made by the end of September each year.

Read the bill:

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.