Oil and gas drilling at the forefront in the District 65 state representatives election

Matt Hollinshead, mhollinshead@daily-times.com

FARMINGTON — Oil and gas drilling — and its effects on revenue and New Mexico lands — is at the forefront in the Nov. 3 race for the District 65 New Mexico House of Representatives seat between Democratic incumbent Derrick Lente and Republican challenger Phillip Salazar.

Lente is eying a third term, while Salazar seeks his first term in office.

Lente, 41, is from the Sandia Pueblo. Salazar, 45, is from Dulce.

District 65 includes the southern portion of San Juan County, the western portion of Rio Arriba County, Sandoval County and seven Pueblos (Cochiti, Jemez, Sandia, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Santo Domingo and Zia).

The impact of drilling

There was a report in September that the U.S. Department of Interior is “expediting” a project that would increase oil and gas drilling in the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico. The proposal could enable drilling up to 3,000 new oil and gas wells in the area.

“It was very much a decision made in the dark,” Lente said, reiterating that he’s against any kind of drilling in the Chaco area.

Derrick Lente of the Sandia Pueblo is seeking his third term in the District 65 New Mexico House of Representatives seat.

Lente said he feels strongly about preserving that land, using the analogy of not drilling around places like the Vatican and the Roman Coliseum in Italy.

Salazar said the actual process behind the expedition would need to be evaluated, adding that San Juan County and Rio Arriba County will be especially impacted. But he said he supports the project if it turns out to be a source of revenue.

More:Drilling plan comment period closes Sept. 25, but has 'meaningful consultation' occurred?

“San Juan County, it’s a big oil and gas county,” Salazar said.

Salazar said he also supports the Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan amendment put forth by the Bureau of Land Management’s Farmington Field Office in coordination with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Regional Office, but also said it’s imperative to make sure additional studies are conducted.

Phillip Salazar of Dulce is the Republican challenger in the 2020 race for the District 65 seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives. Salazar is taking on Democratic incumbent Derrick Lente.

Lente said the amendment needs a complete and thorough review, adding that it’s premature to move forward with it.

However, Lente and Salazar both said the public comment period should be extended past the end point of Sept. 25. While the comment period was initially set to close this spring, Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt extended it to Sept. 25 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite requests for an additional extension, Bernhardt chose not to issue a second extension.

“The people need to be able to express their opinion and their voice,” Salazar said.

As for New Mexico’s methane regulations, Lente said “the methane rules are much-needed.” And based on his experiences with the feds, Lente also said it’s best to have a local presence whenever they have to be addressed.

Others are reading:Bernhardt says a land use plan focused on oil, gas development near Chaco won't be delayed

Salazar said “methane is a dangerous gas,” but added it’s used as fuel for things people use. Those things include ovens, homes, water heaters, kilns, automobiles and turbines.

Salazar also said more studies must be done to ensure methane is a sustainable source of fuel.

Education also an important issue

Lente is focusing on improving areas like school funding.

Lente sponsored House Bill 516, which would appropriate program funding to improve Native American student recruitment and retention in higher education institutions like University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Highlands University.

Lente also co-sponsored 19 additional bills. Those bills include:

•  House Bill 111, which would aid in funding rural school districts and gives teachers in those areas the necessary skills to teach in bilingual and multicultural classrooms;  

• House Bill 120, which would increase the number of bilingual and Teaching English to Speakers of Other  Languages-endorsed teachers in New Mexico:

• House Bill 182, which would require the Public Education Department to design and implement a statewide, research-based literacy and bi-literacy initiative to improve reading, writing and spelling proficiency in New Mexico schools and to ensure they’re “culturally and linguistically relevant to each student.” 

Salazar said he would support impact aid money going to school districts, especially districts with higher Native American student populations like Dulce Independent Schools and Central Consolidated School District.

“It’s the students’ money. They deserve it,” Salazar said.

Subsequent legislation in the wake of COVID-19?

Lente said he’d support legislation aimed at improving areas like education, broadband extension and Native health care services.

Salazar said he’d pursue legislation to support helping small businesses, as well as individuals who are struggling to pay rent and/or have been laid off from their jobs.

Lente Is an attorney specializing in federal Indian law, and he previously taught federal Indian law at UNM in the late-2000s. He also used to own an employment agency with offices in New Mexico and California, which he sold in 2013.

Keep reading:Should the BLM extend Chaco land use public comment periods due to coronavirus pandemic?

Salazar, who has no prior political experience, is the communications supervisor and an assistant incident commander with the Jicarilla Apache Nation. He’s also a school board member at Dulce Independent Schools.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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