New Mexico Rep. Yvette Herrell joins bill to block future bans on oil and gas leases

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

New Mexico’s lone Republican congressperson Yvette Herrell is among those leading the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives to block President Joe Biden’s future efforts to halt oil and gas leasing on federal land.

Biden announced an executive order on Wednesday that paused any new oil and gas leases on federal land as a measure to cut down on climate change impacts of the U.S. industry, following a 60-day suspension of federal agencies’ authority to issue leases and drilling permits by Acting Secretary of the Interior Scott de la Vega.

The Protecting our Wealth of Energy Resources (POWER) Act of 2021 would expressly prohibit the president and members of the Cabinet at the helm of the interior, agriculture and energy departments from blocking any energy or mineral leasing, permitting or mineral withdrawals from federal land and water without Congressional approval.

Oil and gas industry:Leaders slam Biden's federal leasing halt as 'devastating' economy

Yvette Herrell

The act would not impact the current executive order but would work to block future similar actions. 

Jordan Haverly, spokesman for Herrell's office said she intends to work on a bill that could reverse the present order but that the POWER Act was "forward looking."

Herrell said New Mexico would be uniquely and devastatingly impacted by any disruption of fossil fuel development on federal land as about half of the state’s extraction activity occurs on land managed by the federal government.

Previous:Industry warns of dire impact as President Biden pauses oil and gas leasing

The state ranks third in the nation for oil production and New Mexico’s state government reportedly relies on revenue from oil and gas for about a third of its budget.

"More than half the oil and more than two-thirds of the natural gas produced in New Mexico is on federal lands," Herrell said. "A moratorium on new leases will devastate our state’s economy, destroying more than 60,000 jobs by 2022, and decimate our state’s budget."

She worried that if Biden’s order was allowed to stand, New Mexico’s public education system would lose up to $1 billion in funding from oil and gas, and cautioned that about $2.8 billion of the state’s $7.86 billion budget this year came from royalty payments and taxes from the industry.

More:President Joe Biden halts oil and gas leases, permits on federal land and water

"This will have the greatest impact on the children of New Mexico, where our public education system received more than $1 billion in funding from the oil and gas industry last year alone," Herrell added. "I’m proud to lead the POWER Act to protect our state’s jobs and our children’s future."

The House bill was cosponsored by a group of 31 representatives, all Republican and the Senate bill was cosponsored by 23 GOP senators.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the nation was already struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and he feared a halt on oil and gas activity could further stymie the U.S. economy.

“At a time when households are already struggling, our immediate priorities are to defeat the virus, rebuild the economy, and reopen schools,” he said. “But by squandering American energy independence to pander to a small group of radical activists, these executive orders not only ignore those priorities, they make them harder to achieve.”

The rest of New Mexico's Congressional Delegation signaled support for the Biden administration’s actions, per reporting from the Associated Press, and Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said climate change must be prioritized.

More:New Mexico business leaders wary as Biden expected to ban federal oil and gas leasing

“It is essential that climate change be prioritized,” she said in a statement. “In the interest of developing a new, more sustainable federal-and-state climate policy that is so urgently needed to protect our planet, a review of all climate-related policies, including energy policies, will ensure we do this right — across the country and here in New Mexico.”

New Mexico climate activists applauded the halt on oil and gas leasing as a sign of the Biden administration’s focus on tackling climate change and pollution from industry sources.

“To have any chance of mitigating the challenges of climate change, mass species extinction, and issues of environmental justice, equity, and access, it will take all of us working together,” said Mark Allison, executive director at the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

“New Mexicans know that our natural heritage and our cultural heritage are inseparable and that it is the responsibility of everyone to do what we can on behalf of future generations.”

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