Opinion: Capture methane, generate funds for N.M. students

By Nathaniel Evans
Posted 8/22/19

As an educator heading back to school for the fall semester, I've been thinking a lot about the efforts underway in New Mexico to address emissions from oil and gas production …

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Opinion: Capture methane, generate funds for N.M. students

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As an educator heading back to school for the fall semester, I've been thinking a lot about the efforts underway in New Mexico to address emissions from oil and gas production across the state. Taos may feel like it's a long way from the oil and gas development of the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico, but there's no escaping the industry's impacts on our community and its future.

New Mexico has a methane waste and pollution problem. It's costing our schools millions of dollars in revenue, ruining our air and worsening the climate crisis, which will have a long-lasting effect for generations to come.

As an educator, I believe it is critical that we make smart decisions now about our resources so we can invest in our future. Over the past 10 years, New Mexico has cut K-12 education by 14 percent on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis. Simply put, we've been trying to run our state on the cheap, and no one has suffered for it more than our children.

This decade of austere policy has resulted in New Mexico falling - for the third time in the past five years - to dead-last in the nation for child well-being, as ranked by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT program.

And while there has been a boon thanks to increasing oil and gas development in southeastern New Mexico, we have been wasteful with our resources. Each year in New Mexico, oil and gas companies waste $275 million-worth of natural gas through venting, flaring and leaks, which costs the state over $40 million in royalty and tax revenue.That is enough royalty and tax revenue to increase Pre-K enrollment by 80 percent and offer more than 7,000 additional New Mexico kids access to quality early childhood education.

As we know all too well, oil and gas booms and it goes bust. We cannot afford to waste resources and lose revenue in good times or in bad, we need to be investing in our children and promoting economic diversity.

Adding insult to injury, oil and gas operations both waste resources and release dangerous, ozone-forming pollutants. According to a recent analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund, "nearly 9,000 children under the age of five live in San Juan County (home to New Mexico's infamous methane hot spot) and over 78 percent of these young kids live within one mile of an active oil or gas well. In southeastern New Mexico, the numbers are equally striking: 80 percent of young children in Eddy County and 68 percent in Lea County also live within one mile of a well."

I applaud Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's commitment to reducing methane waste and pollution and call on her administration to move quickly to put in place nationally leading rules that require oil and gas companies to clean up their act. They need to cut methane emissions and repair leaks to stop energy waste, ensure a fair return on taxpayer revenue for our schools, protect our air and stem the tide of the climate [crisis] for future generations.

We need the strongest possible state methane rules to protect our childrens' health and the quality of their education, and to ensure they can have a prosperous future in New Mexico.

Nathaniel Evans is a Taos Town Council member and local educator. Evans is a contributor to Western Leaders Voices, a program of Western Leaders Network that helps amplify the voices of local and tribal elected leaders on conservation issues in the West.

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