Courtesy New Mexico State Land Office

Stephanie Garcia Richard is running for re-election on a promise to continue a progressive agenda for public land management.

Stephanie Garcia Richard is the first woman to serve as the New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands, and halfway through her first four-year term, is planning for reelection so she can continue to advance her progressive agenda.

"We have begun some very important - and even historic - work," said Garcia Richard. Her office said she was elected in November 2018 and will be up for re-election in 2022. Garcia Richard has headed the New Mexico State Land Office since the start of 2019.

She addressed the Taos County Federation of Democratic Women via ZOOM on Thursday (Aug. 26) and asked for the party's continued support.

Democratic leaders in attendance at the group's first meeting of the year included NM House Rep. Kristina Ortez, and Taos County Commissioners AnJanette Brush, Candyce O'Donnell and Darlene Vigil.

'Best interest'

The New Mexico State Land Office was created to lease state land, and use the profits to fund state education and other public institutions. The agency oversees 9 million surface acres and 13 million mineral acres.

Garcia Richard said the agency raised $1 billion dollars each year over the last three years. "The first time ever at the Land Office that has happened," she said. "And knowing that those dollars mean everything to our public institutions."

"But also, by proper stewardship of the resource," she said. "The constitutional charge on the office is to raise revenue, but to do so in the best interest of the beneficiaries. And for me, the best interest means these resources need to be here for generations to come."

New reforms

The Land Office recently launched an enforcement and accountability program to force polluters to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells. "They're some of the worst offenders when it comes to emissions of methane," said Garcia Richard, who grew up in Silver City.

She said she's using the courts when needed, but has been successful in plugging about two dozen wells. "We are holding folks accountable for their messes," she said. "And saying, if you want to use state land, you're going to have to do so properly."

The Land Office also wrote a policy banning fresh-water fracking. "Millions of gallons of fresh water, that's drinkable, is used every year in fracking," she said. "It could be recycled water."

Another initiative Garcia Richard is championing would require all contractors to have proper insurance for state infrastructure projects. "So that if there is an environmental disaster, if that company goes bankrupt, we are not left holding the bag to clean it up," she said.

The gap between existing company bonds and the amount needed to satisfy all claims at once was $8 billion. Garcia Richard said bonds at her agency are capped at $25,000, and are often used to insure multiple wells.

Future goals

"Our biggest moneymaker right now - oil and gas - will not be here forever," said Garcia Richard, who thinks climate change is pushing consumers to change their choice of energy.

She is betting on renewables to replace oil and gas revenue. "We are using your state land to build out wind, solar storage, and yes, transmission - our transmission is at capacity," she said.

New Mexico renewable energy can also be sold to nearby states. "We've got large markets in Arizona, Utah, California, who - just as the sun is setting, the wind is picking up in our state."

"We set ourselves a goal of tripling the number of megawatts of renewable energy generated on state land. That's why you've got to reelect me - because I've got to finish the job," said Garcia Richard.

House ally

Rep. Kristina Ortez attended the online event, while also serving as a guest legislator on the NM Legislative Finance Committee - the group that directs how state money is spent.

She said women had gotten a lot done since the last election, citing working families tax credits, the decriminalization of abortion, recreational cannabis and early childhood funding.

"You're seeing it now, on the House floor, with more women in the house than ever before," said Ortez. "It is making us do things differently. Some of those things include bringing a collaborative of mostly women together to talk about modernization of the legislature."

Reforms could include salary for elected officials and their staff, and longer legislative sessions. "Trying to get good policy done in such a short timeframe means that we all lose."

Ortez said that for the next legislative session (beginning Jan. 18, 2022), she was interested in pushing for bills on climate change, energy efficiencies and land and water conservation. "I'm here for it," she said.

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