COMMENTARY: Aubrey Dunn, commissioner of New Mexico State Land Office, has proposed a controversial land-grab bill under the guise of helping New Mexico’s children.
Under the Early Childhood Education Land Grant Act, Dunn wants Congress to transfer millions of subsurface mineral rights to the state, which the State Land Office would lease for mineral development. The generated revenue would be put into a trust for early childhood education. There are several problems with Dunn’s proposal.
First, the proposal takes an act of Congress to implement, which would most likely never happen.
Next, basing an economy almost entirely on oil and gas revenue has already proven detrimental for New Mexico, as a $150 million budget deficit exists after the prices of oil and gas tumbled to historic lows over the past year. The State Land Office itself saw a 37 percent decline in mineral royalties within the 2015 fiscal year, and over the 2016 fiscal year it saw a 32 percent drop in overall state land revenue.
Perhaps it’s time for New Mexico to diversify its investment portfolio.
Lastly, the BLM already has legislation on the table that would bring millions to New Mexico, which is specifically earmarked for… you guessed it, childhood education. BLM’s rule reduces natural gas waste from oil and gas development on public lands. Each year, an estimated $100 million worth of natural gas is wasted on public lands in New Mexico.
And as oil and gas producers aren’t required to pay royalties on the natural gas they waste, New Mexico loses an additional $50 million in royalty revenue each year.
Dunn opposes BLM’s methane waste rule. As a fiduciary steward for New Mexico, it is Dunn’s official duty to embrace commonsense economic opportunities for the state, instead of inventing a wild goose chase to appear to be doing everything possible to fix the state’s dire economic situation.
Why would Dunn propose such a ridiculous act while opposing a real-time, actual solution to the state’s revenue shortfall?
Dunn has been in the pocket of the oil and gas industry for years, as they have generously donated nearly $100,000 to his past election campaigns.
Don’t let Dunn’s ruse of “I’m for the kids” fool you — because if he was, he’d support the BLM rule and the millions it would generate for the children of New Mexico.
Chris Saeger is the director of the Western Values Project.