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Conservation Groups Praise Demise of Mineral-Rights Bill to Fund Education

A bill that originated with the New Mexico Lands Office to put mineral-rights revenue toward education was tabled in the state Legislature after public opposition. (Conservation Voters New Mexico)
A bill that originated with the New Mexico Lands Office to put mineral-rights revenue toward education was tabled in the state Legislature after public opposition. (Conservation Voters New Mexico)
February 9, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. – Conservation groups are celebrating after a bill that would put revenue from the sale of mineral rights toward early-childhood education was tabled by its author. On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee tabled and essentially killed Senate Bill 182, following a public outcry.

Ben Shelton with Conservation Voters New Mexico opposed the measure, viewing it as something of a wolf in sheep's clothing because it offered funds for education in exchange for the mineral rights to 6.6 million acres of federal public land.

"This is part of a push we see happening across the West to take federal public lands away from the public and basically give them to states with the idea that the states would then lease them out to private interests," he said. "And you effectively remove the ability of the public to access or benefit from public land."

The bill originated with Public Lands Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and rests on the assumption that Congress is planning to vote to transfer those mineral rights to the state, something that may now be less likely to happen. Supporters of public land transfer argue that the states, not the federal government, should decide whether or not to extract resources such as oil, gas and helium from public lands.

Shelton says money for early-childhood education would not start rolling in for many years.

"Because the money wasn't just going to be given to early-childhood education," he added. "It would be put into a trust. It would have taken decades for that trust to mature to the point where it's actually providing meaningful interest payouts to early-childhood education."

Shelton supports an alternative proposal to provide more reliable education funding by increasing the outlay from the permanent fund by 1.5 percent.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NM