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WildEarth Guardians Condemns New Mexico’s Roll Back of Oil and Gas Industry Inspections, Enforcement

April 30, 2020
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#JustTransition, #KeepItInTheGround
Santa Fe, NM–WildEarth Guardians today condemned the New Mexico Environment Department’s decision to scale back enforcement of clean air violations and inspections of oil and gas extraction facilities in the state.

“In this unprecedented health crisis, the New Mexico Environment Department is turning its back on clean air and communities,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “This sick indifference to human health is nothing but an attempt to appease the bankrupt oil and gas industry.”

In an announcement today, the New Mexico Environment Department’s Air Quality Bureau disclosed a series of actions the agency is taking to make it easier for the oil and gas industry to avoid accountability to clean air and public health. The announcement comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact New Mexico and the rest of the world and even as the state remains under a stay-at-home order to protect health.

Among the measures the Air Quality Bureau announced, the agency is halting inspections of oil and gas extraction facilities, allowing companies to forego pollution tests and monitoring, and even allowing companies to use the COVD-19 crisis as an excuse to violate clean air laws.

The Bureau also confirmed that it would rely entirely on oil and gas companies to monitor their pollution and report violations, stating that industry “should disclose possible violations at the earliest opportunity.”

The moves comes as New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is set to announce ongoing emergency measures in the state to protect people from COVID-19.

“New Mexico’s environmental and health regulators have effectively closed shop, giving the oil and gas industry free rein to poison the state’s air with impunity,” said Nichols.  “The right thing to do is to pause this dangerous industrial activity. Instead, the Environment Department is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.”

The Environment Department, headed by Secretary James Kenney, touted its measures as similar to rollbacks adopted by the Trump Administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those measures have been roundly criticized as endangering people and promoting more illegal air pollution in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Studies have also linked high levels of air pollution with higher risk of death from the coronavirus. Scientists have also discovered that the virus may be transmitted by air pollution particles.

And while emissions from cars and trucks have declined precipitously in light of the pandemic, reports have found that areas with heavy oil and gas extraction are still seeing spikes in toxic air pollution.

“While nurses, doctors, service industry workers, those in agriculture and food processing, and many more are on the frontlines trying to protect us and help us weather the COVID-19 crisis, the New Mexico Environment Department is running away and disowning its role in safeguarding our health and well-being,” said Nichols.  “Just like the Trump Administration, New Mexico’s health and environmental regulators are surrendering to the fossil fuel industry, forcing people to pay the price of unchecked pollution.”