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Environmentalists, Oil Producers Eye NM Land Commissioner Race

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018   

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The surge of oil and gas drilling in New Mexico in the past 18 months also has led to a surge of influence spending in the race for the next Commissioner of Public Lands.

Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard, Republican Pat Lyons and Libertarian Michael Lucero all want the job, but Chevron Corp. has poured $2 million into the race to support Lyons, primarily through television ads.

Lilliana Castillo, communications director for Conservation Voters New Mexico, said the state deserves a commissioner who will hold oil and gas companies accountable and protect New Mexico's air, land and water.

"In New Mexico, in particular, we have more acres of state trust land than any other state in the country," she said, "so that makes the commissioner of public lands the most powerful land manager in the West."

A Lyons spokesperson said they had no control over who contributes money to his campaign.

Castillo noted that the commissioner also has the power to regulate methane emissions, in a state where the Four Corners methane cloud is as large as Delaware. The State Land Office oversees 9 million surface acres and 13 million subsurface acres that are leased for oil and gas production.

Production levels have soared this year, due in part to regulation cutbacks by the Trump administration. New Mexico's hospitals, infrastructure, higher education and public schools are the primary recipients of state trust land revenues.

Castillo said she thinks outside interests shouldn't be able to "buy" one of New Mexico's most powerful statewide offices.

"Oil and gas is trying to buy their own landlord, and this is a precedent we do not want to see on our state trust lands," she said. "We need to bring to light that these special interests are trying to influence our elections in a big way."

New Mexico's economy relies heavily on the boom-and-bust revenues from oil and gas production. Castillo said renewable energy, including wind and solar energy, need to be part of diversifying the state's economy for future generations.


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