Many counties and municipalities in New Mexico have passed restrictions on mining, oil and gas that go beyond state laws. These are things like: dictating how close wells can be to homes or imposing weight limits on trucks.
A controversial bill (HB 366) that would limit that local control, and give the state exclusive power over all matters relating to oil and gas, passed the House Tuesday.
Sponsored by House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, the bill passed on a party-line vote, with all Republicans in support.
It now moves to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it has been assigned to a committee that has already rejected two related proposals.
The issue highlights a perennial tension between protecting the environment and balancing the state’s bottom line.
Industry supporters say the state already has some of the toughest oil and gas regulations in the country and these local restrictions go too far, hurting business and limiting revenue the state depends on.
“When you have a state that derives 35 percent of its general revenue from one industry and you start putting restrictions on that industry then it hurts,” said Gerges Scott, an oil industry expert who hosts a podcast and radio show sponsored by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
But communities should be able to decide what’s right for their residents’ health and safety, state Sen. Benny Shendo, Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, said Wednesday.
“There’s no question oil and gas is important to the state but at the same time, when we live in an environment that’s very fragile, we really have to be careful,” Shendo said. “You know, money’s not everything.”
The Sierra Club and other conservation groups have lobbied aggressively to retain local control.
Correction: This story has been changed to reflect that Nate Gentry is the House Majority Leader and to remove inaccurate information on the number of counties and municipalities in New Mexico that have oil and gas industry rules that go beyond state laws. We regret the errors.