ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Revenue from oil and gas development is critical for funding education and other public services in New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez said Wednesday, and urged Congress to reduce the bureaucratic red tape.
The two-term Republican governor testified before a House subcommittee that’s considering legislation to streamline the permitting process.
Martinez and a handful of western governors have asked for changes that would address a backlog in the approval of permits as the oil and gas industry rebounds, netting more revenues and royalties for state governments.
In New Mexico, it takes federal land managers an average of 250 days to approve a drilling permit application, Martinez said. That can amount to a potential loss of $2 million a day for the state, she said.
“Each backlogged permit represents New Mexicans losing out on good paying jobs and rural communities losing out on economic growth. We need a solution that will streamline layers of bureaucratic requirements and expedite the approval process,” Martinez told the Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California and other Democrats on the panel raised concerns about speeding up approvals. They contended there were dangers with waiving environmental laws and shutting the public out of the permitting process.
“Informing people what is happening in their backyard is not a burden. Giving people a voice is not a burden. Responsible, balanced management of public lands is not a burden,” Lowenthal said.
Two of the bills are sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who is running against Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham in the gubernatorial race to replace Martinez when her term expires at the end of 2018.
The congressional hearing came as activists gathered in New Mexico earlier Wednesday to protest any rollbacks of environmental reviews or royalty rates that oil, natural gas, mining and renewable energy companies must pay for operating on federal land.
The Royalty Policy Committee during its meeting in Albuquerque discussed everything from wind power to energy development on tribal lands.
Critics have said that U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has stacked the committee with industry executives. The panel, which includes federal officials, state and tribal representatives and others, is tasked with advising him on royalty management issues.
Pam Eaton, a senior adviser at The Wilderness Society, said the committee should reject any recommendations to limit the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental reviews and public participation in oil and gas permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Individually and together, these recommendations - all aimed at constraining how and when environmental reviews of oil and gas permitting are conducted - could hide thousands of energy development decisions from public scrutiny and oversight,” Eaton said.
Martinez and officials from Utah told the congressional panel that some requirements are duplicative and that streamlining multi-layer approval processes doesn’t mean the states don’t care about the environment. They also pushed the importance of economic development for rural areas, where most drilling occurs.
“We see a great window of opportunity in the future,” said John Baza, director of Utah’s Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. “But we’ve got to be careful that the impedance that comes from federal side doesn’t dissuade operators from making those investments.”
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