Gov. Susana Martinez debuts new state energy policy
CARLSBAD — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez announced her new energy plan Monday morning at the Southeast New Mexico Oil and Gas Summit in Carlsbad.
The 2015 Energy Policy and Implementation Plan is the first comprehensive state energy plan in 25 years, Martinez told the crowd of more than 1,300 who gathered at the Walter Gerrell's Performing Arts Center.
Martinez said the plan adopts an "all of the above" approach, meaning it promotes all sources of energy, not just oil and gas. The first step in the plan is to bolster energy infrastructure, which is essential to economic development.
"For too long, our energy potential has been limited to the constraints of our infrastructure," Martinez said.
She said investing in infrastructure, such as rail lines from the Four Corners to Interstate-40 would reduce transportation costs for coal, natural gas and crude oil, making those energy products more economically viable.
Martinez said infrastructure investments are already being made in Eddy County and surrounding areas.
"Transportation currently has over $75 million of active highway construction in Eddy and Lea Counties," Martinez said, adding that $40 million in federal funds has been redirected to improve shoulders and turnout access along N.M. Road 529, and $50 million was directed from the special session to turn U.S. Highway 82 into a four-lane highway.
The second part of the plan is to make the most of water resources in a state with a desert climate.
"I'm very pleased that for the first time ever, water and energy planning has been combined in the state energy plan," Martinez said.
The plan makes recommendations for how New Mexico can become a leader nationally in water conservation by using non-potable water in energy production and exploring opportunities to recycle water.
"We have an ocean of brackish water," Martinez said, adding that is the water that should be used for drilling instead of clean potable water.
But, Martinez said, none of the plan can be realized without a skilled workforce, which is why it also includes recommendations to align college courses across the state in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.
Martinez said students who go to two-year colleges should be able to transfer to four-year schools knowing their credits in the STEM disciplines will transfer.
"Many times, students have to retake things," Martinez said. "That's why we want to align them so that every school says, 'Yes, that course is good for all of our universities to produce someone with that degree at an excellent level."
Martinez's plan also calls for streamlining of government regulations in the energy industry.
"Government at the state and federal level should help, not hinder, companies that want to explore energy production," Martinez said.
The state should be the primary advocate for fewer regulations on energy industries, and regulations should be based on science, not ideology, Martinez said.
She said that under her administration, energy permits are now being processed in eight days or less.
Though the summit focused mainly on oil and gas, Martinez ended her announcement by stressing the importance of renewable energy.
"By building upon our state's current renewable portfolio standard, we have the opportunity to adopt a low-carbon portfolio standard that would dramatically improve our air quality by stimulating production of all types of low-carbon, cleaner energy resources," Martinez said.
Martinez built up to announcing the plan by stressing the importance of the oil and gas industry to the state, citing a statistic that 36 percent of the state's general fund comes from oil and gas revenues.
Martinez referred to the plan as a road map for helping America secure energy independence, an idea she brought up again toward the end of her speech.
"There is absolutely no reason why the United States of America should be so reliant on another nation for our energy resources," Martinez said.
Steve Henke, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, attended the conference in Carlsbad and said he was encouraged by what he heard.
"(Martinez) emphasized the role New Mexico plays in providing a diversified energy portfolio to meet the nation's energy needs," Henke said in a phone interview Monday. "I was encouraged by her recognizing a need for a partnership between private industry and government to take full advantage of our energy needs and resources in the state. We are looking forward to that partnership. There's a legitimate role for government to play."
Henke said Martinez emphasized in her speech that New Mexico is the fourth largest energy producing state in the U.S.
He said he also welcomed Martinez's emphasis on investing in industrial infrastructure.
"Improving the state's infrastructure — like rail and for the transportation and delivery of energy in all its forms — was good to hear," Henke said. "While I think it's a continuation of themes we've heard from the governor previously, she's trying to capitalize on the wealth of energy resources in New Mexico in a responsible way."
Henke said he hopes the plan leads to greater "common sense" regulations that will "provide for a predictable operating environment, while protecting the (natural) environment," he said.
Daily Times Business Editor James Fenton contributed to this story.