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Democrats walk fine line on energy

The following appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on April 18, Santa Fe New Mexican, and other New Mexico media outlets.

If there were an overall theme for New Mexico’s current political situation it would be the ongoing attempts by Democrats to placate their environmentalist base which opposes traditional energy sources while at the same time keeping energy dollars flowing into the State’s coffers.

The Biden Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas permitting is the most notable example of this conflict. Gov. Lujan Grisham has publicly spoken out about it, but Attorney General Balderas has refused to join a lawsuit challenging the policy that was recently filed by a dozen states. None of those states have as much to lose as does New Mexico, but our elected leaders are unlikely to challenge a President of their own party.

The internal conflict was on full display in the recently-completed legislative session as well. Thankfully, the most radical bill on energy which would have banned “fracking,” (an oil and gas drilling process without which New Mexico’s oil and gas industry would be immediately decimated) failed without gaining traction.

Making it much further in the process only to fail unexpectedly was Sen. Mimi Stewart’s “clean fuel standard” SB 11. In 2019 Gov. Lujan Grisham made national headlines stating that New Mexico was going to increase vehicle mileage in New Mexico to 52 MPG by model year 2022.

SB 11 would have instead forced motorists to use “alternative” fuels with the goal of reducing carbon emissions while passing off the hard work of actually developing the technology onto the private sector. Presumably blame for higher fuel costs would have been shifted as well. The bill faltered after passing the Senate.

Anti-energy bills that did make their way into law included SB 8 which allows local governments  to enact more restrictive air quality regulations than are imposed by the federal government. It is unlikely that conservative counties where much of the Industry is located (and people are far more supportive of the Industry than liberal Albuquerque or Santa Fe) will enact such regulations, but this is about politics, not policy.

Speaking of politics, SB 112 which also made its way into law creates a “sustainable economy task force.” The task force’s stated goal is “diversifying New Mexico’s economy while reducing reliance on traditional energy sources.” Of course, New Mexico Democrats have controlled the Legislature for decades and with total Democrat control under Lujan Grisham, they have had ample time to enact the public policies necessary to “diversify” New Mexico’s economy.

Unfortunately, Santa Fe has repeatedly failed to reform the gross receipts tax, eliminate Social Security taxes, reduce onerous regulations, and expand educational choice (to improve workforce preparedness). In recent legislative sessions we’ve instead seen tax hikes passed at times of big budget surpluses. During both the 2019 (HB 6) and 2021 (SB 317) sessions tax hikes were adopted. Such cash grabs do nothing to diversify New Mexico’s economy. At best they diversify government revenues. In addition to tax hikes, policies like minimum wage hikes, paid sick leave mandates, and ongoing COVID restrictions imposed by the Executive only hinder economic growth and diversification.

Finally, this session, while the Legislature continued its piecemeal attacks on energy, after a decade of attempts they passed an amendment to increase distributions from the Land Grand Permanent Fund (the fund is generated by oil and gas). HJR 1 not only increased distributions by 1% but added an additional .25% to that amount for a total increase of 1.25%.

Continued existence of the fund happens only if the oil and gas industry thrives, so Democrats’ plan to take more money out while less money is put in seem problematic at best.

Rather than killing off energy first, New Mexico’s elected leaders should focus on diversifying the economy. When we are no longer among the very poorest states in the nation the Legislature can address ways to make the New Mexico less dependent on oil and gas.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility

 

 

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NM has high unemployment rate yet business can’t find workers: what gives?

As of February 2021 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics New Mexico has the 5th-highest unemployment rate in the nation. You can see a partial list below. New Mexico which remains among the most locked down states in the nation (especially its population areas) has had an elevated unemployment rate for much of the COVID crisis.

But, with the federal government’s generous (debt-fueled) “stimulus” plans  making it lucrative for people to not work, it is clear that many New Mexicans would rather stay home and cash checks than work for a living. Here are a few recent news stories showing how challenging it is for businesses to find people here and here.

Simply put, as businesses try to reopen and get back to something akin to normal, bad policies out of Washington, most notably the recent $2 trillion “Biden-bucks” scheme will make it more difficult for the economy to reopen.

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New Mexico session another missed opportunity

The following appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on Sunday, March 28, 2021. UPDATE: Originally the article stated there was a production moratorium on federal lands. There is “only” a moratorium on new permits.

New Mexico is in one of the most unusual economic times in its history. Profound forces have impacted our State over the last year in unforeseen ways.

    • The Gov. and COVID shut down much of our State for much of the past year. COVID is declining, but New Mexico remains among the most locked-down states in the nation;
    • Oil and gas prices plummeted last April due to the pandemic and an international price war, but have come roaring back and produced $300 million in “new” money and a budget surplus;
    • Democrats in Washington recently passed a $1.9 trillion dollar “stimulus” that will dump an astounding $9 billion on New Mexico State and local governments. Meanwhile the Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas permits on federal lands will cost our State more than $700 million over the next few years according to Gov. Lujan Grisham;
    • While New Mexico governments are awash in money, businesses are struggling to recover. The State’s unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, 4th-worst in the nation.

To say we are living through unpredictable times would be an understatement. Oil and gas have always been volatile but are now more unpredictable than ever. This reflects broader economic uncertainty, but with the Biden Administration targeting the Industry, the Legislature must diversify our economy (this does not mean simply new sources of government revenue).

The unprecedented stream of federal spending flowing into our state is currently augmented by a flow of people. Housing markets are tight in most of our cities as Americans from big, expensive, states like California embrace remote work or simply move to states like New Mexico where they can spread out and buy a house for a lot less money.

Current trends are favorable, but long-term economic prosperity requires enacting policies that make the State more attractive as a business destination. The 2021 Legislature had a few successes but ultimately failed to enact policies that will bring long-term prosperity to New Mexico.

Despite a big budget surplus, the Legislature raised taxes on health insurance (SB 317). They imposed a new sick leave mandate on businesses, including small ones (HB 20). And, passage of HB 4, the misnamed “Civil Rights Act” will impose massive new legal costs on New Mexico governments without actually improving policing or protecting civil rights.

There were bright spots. HB 255 reformed New Mexico’s liquor licensing to make it easier for bars and restaurants long-term. HB 177 passed which allows New Mexicans to start micro-businesses by making non-perishable food items in their homes for sale.

But the gross receipts tax and its taxation of busines inputs and services remains a stumbling block for businesses. New Mexico also remains among a relatively small group of states that tax Social Security. No significant tax cuts or reforms were adopted. Also, no widespread reform of burdensome regulations (like the State’s “prevailing wage” law that artificially increases costs on public works) projects was enacted.

Some will argue that (after a decade of trying) tapping the Permanent fund to boost various education programs will help improve our workforce, but the track record of governments (including New Mexico’s) spending more money to boost education outcomes is spotty at best. Empowering parents and families with the resources needed to choose the educational option that is right for them (especially after a year of Zoom education), is more likely to succeed and at a fraction of the cost, but legislation to that effect was quickly defeated this session.

Microchip manufacturer Intel just announced that it is investing $20 billion in neighboring Arizona to build two new facilities. Such “economic diversification” is exactly what we need and what the Gov. and Legislature claim to want. Until the Legislature gets serious about reforming our economy we’ll continue riding the wave of luck, boom and bust in the oil patch, and Washington debt.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility

 

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A drive through Tim Keller’s Albuquerque

Since March of 2020 (the start of COVID 19) the Rio Grande Foundation has been located in downtown Albuquerque.

While Albuquerque has never had the greatest downtown, there is no doubt that the area has been hammered by COVID 19, the riots over the summer of 2020, and Mayor Tim Keller’s lax policies towards crime and homelessness. He just announced that he will be running for reelection this fall.

The Rio Grande Foundation recently took a drive around downtown and up Central Ave./Route 66 with a mounted camera to see what the City looks like. Watch the video for yourself below.

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New Mexico REMAINS among most locked down states in US (44th most open) despite recent reopenings according to Wallethub

The latest Wallethub report (out today) ranks states based on Coronavirus restrictions. New Mexico remains relatively shuttered (44th most open). Worse than that, as can be seen below, New Mexico is in the unenviable position of having MANY COVID restrictions AND a high death rate. 

Furthermore (according to the bottom chart), New Mexico also has a high unemployment rate which, not surprisingly accompanies those economic restrictions.

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Opinion piece: High-interest loans have a purpose

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Video of discussion: Kevin Hassett and Paul Gessing Evaluate the Impact of President Biden’s Energy Policy

On Wednesday Feb. 24, the Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation and Kevin Hassett of the National Review Institute discussed the impact of the Biden Administration’s energy policies on New Mexico. You can watch the discussion which lasts about an hour below:

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RGF’s Gessing in National Review: Deb Haaland Could Be a Disaster at Interior

This week, President Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Interior, New Mexico congresswoman Deb Haaland, is up for confirmation in the Senate. Haaland, a self-described “progressive,” and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, would, if confirmed, become the first Native American to head Interior. The Department manages approximately 500 million acres of surface land, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States.

The agency’s work is of interest to all Americans because it oversees more than 400 National Parks, from Yellowstone to White Sands. However, the department is of particular importance to Westerners, as more than 90 percent of the lands it manages are located in the Western United States.

The nomination of Haaland makes a certain amount of political sense for President Biden, allowing him to place a Native American in a position of leadership over Interior’s vast network of Native reservations. These reservations, including the Navajo Reservation in Northwest New Mexico, remain among the deepest pockets of poverty in the country. The fact that no Native American has ever managed those reservations is indeed worth remedying.

But Interior is a large department with many lands of varying purposes, and Western resource-intensive states including New Mexico have already seen the Biden administration act in ways that will do significant harm to their economies.

At Interior, Deb Haaland would be a cheerleader for Biden’s early anti-energy policies and would likely look for opportunities to expand upon them. She has taken radically anti-fossil-fuel positions throughout her political career. In 2016, prior to being elected to Congress, Haaland traveled to North Dakota to cook food for the protesters demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline. She stayed in the camps for four days that September.

In May 2019, the newly minted congresswoman told The Guardian, “I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public land.”

Are Haaland’s positions and opinions based on sound science and history? In a 2019 Los Alamos Monitor story, Haaland claimed that “climate change in the U.S. started when Europeans arrived and started killing the buffalo.” Considering the numerous, dramatic changes that were a feature of the climate in prehistoric North America (and everywhere else on this planet), Haaland’s understanding of environmental forces is a bit off.

Given her radical views, it is not surprising that Haaland has been a strong supporter of the Green New Deal. The ambitious plan put forth by Represenative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and others would cost trillions in subsidies and lost economic activity. Among the plan’s radical proposals is a mandated shift to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and an increase in the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent.

On day one, the Biden administration pulled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. While this pipeline won’t directly affect energy-producing states, the cavalier approach to the permit raised red flags. Shortly thereafter, the Biden administration placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. If confirmed, Haaland would be a staunch defender of such policies.

Haaland’s home state, New Mexico, is particularly impacted by what happens at Interior. The state has the third-highest Native American population in the U.S. and also happens to be the state most financially dependent on energy produced on federally managed lands within its borders.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, a ban on federal oil and gas leases could cost New Mexico 62,000 jobs, reduce state revenues by $1.1 billion, and reduce oil and gas production within the state by nearly 50 percent.

With Haaland’s nomination up this week and Biden already taking an aggressive anti-energy stance, it is ironic Haaland wasn’t Biden’s first choice for the job.

In fact, according to several New Mexico media outlets, Biden initially offered the position to New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan GrishamOn December 2, media outlets reported that Lujan Grisham had been offered the top job at Interior but turned it down. Lujan Grisham has never stated publicly why she refused the job, although she is just halfway through her first term in a “blue” New Mexico where she likely expects to be reelected in 2022.

As has been the case since the early days of Biden’s run for the White House, identity politics loom large for him. The president seemingly had the Interior secretary set aside to be filled by a Western, female, minority Democrat. A few weeks after Lujan Grisham turned him down, Biden settled on Haaland for the post.

The case for the slot at Interior being based purely on demography is buttressed by the fact that Lujan Grisham and Haaland have very different views regarding federal-land management. While both are New Mexican females (one Hispanic and one Native American), they exemplify opposite wings of the Democratic Party on energy.

From 2013 to 2019, Lujan Grisham represented the same Albuquerque-area congressional district as Haaland does now (Haaland will relinquish the seat if confirmed), and took a practical, moderate view on energy. This moderation is notably reflected in her 2015 vote to repeal the ban on crude-oil exports. She was one of just 26 Democrats in the House voting to repeal, with 153 of them voting to keep the ban in place.

Lujan Grisham continued to express moderation on energy issues when she moved into New Mexico’s Governor’s Mansion in 2019. During her time in office, she has expressed strong support for the state’s oil and gas industry and even said she’d consider asking for a waiver in case of a federal leasing ban.

As a governor concerned about her state’s economic and financial interests (and one who enjoys having oil and gas generate anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of her state’s budget), Lujan Grisham has attempted to placate environmentalists in her political base without doing serious harm to the state’s most important industry. Based on President Biden’s early energy policies, Haaland seems to make a better fit for the administration.

Senator Steve Daines (R., Mont.) has announced his opposition to Haaland’s nomination. Montana’s junior senator signaled he would not only vote against her confirmation, but also attempt to block her nomination from advancing.

“I’m deeply concerned with the Congresswoman’s support on several radical issues that will hurt Montana, our way of life, our jobs and rural America, including her support for the Green New Deal and President Biden’s oil and gas moratorium, as well as her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline,” Daines said in a statement. Is that enough to stop Haaland from taking her radical policies to Department of the Interior? We should all hope so.

 

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While private sector workers lost jobs in droves, New Mexico government employment GREW in 2020

In New Mexico, when politicians talk about “diversifying the economy,” they usually mean “finding new taxes in order to spend more money.”

That’s partially because we have so many state and local government workers (let alone federal employees and contractors). Even a global pandemic can’t stop New Mexico from growing as the map below from The Washington Post shows.

While most other states saw reductions (often major) in state government employment, New Mexico’s already-bloated government workforce grew by 4%. That is tied for the fastest growth in the nation.

Adding insult to injury, while their numbers grew, the Legislative Finance Committee in New Mexico’s Legislature planned to give pay raises to state government employees in the budget currently being discussed in Santa Fe. Gov. Lujan Grisham gave fat pay raises to her inner-circle although (to her credit) the Gov.’s budget DOES NOT have broad based pay hikes.

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Hurting the Economy without Helping the Climate? We’ve Got this Inside-Out

In the last month, New Mexico and the United States as a whole have witnessed unprecedented attacks on the traditional energy sector. Nationally, President Biden’s ban — for now, just described as a pause — on new oil and gas leases on federal lands has been well documented. So too has his revoking of the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

While such decisions are undoubtedly popular with radical environmentalists and their well-funded allies, it is hard to see how they — or anyone likely to follow them — will achieve the reductions in CO2 emissions necessary to make any difference to the climate. Look, for example, at the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline decision. With no available pipeline, Canada and its oil producers will simply load their oil onto trains or trucks, relying instead on modes of transport that are more risky and less energy-efficient. Indeed, doing so will involve higher greenhouse-gas emissions than the pipeline would have, especially considering the pipeline developers’ recent promise to use only renewableenergy to operate the project.

Overall, less than 10 percent of American oil and gas comes from federal lands. Cutting production from them won’t have a real impact on producers on private and state lands, nor will it reduce demand for foreign oil. Nevertheless, this new policy could end up inflicting significant economic pain on an already shaky U.S. economy.

Even if a relatively small amount of U.S. oil and gas production comes from federal lands, bans or restrictions there will have a disproportionate effect on a good number of states and their economies (like my own in New Mexico). Half of New Mexico’s oil and gas production — much of it fracked — is on federal land. Long-term curtailment of oil and gas drilling on federal lands would devastate the state’s budget.

Not to be outdone by the Biden administration, the Democrat-dominated legislature here in “deep blue” New Mexico is considering a number of proposals of their own. (Mind you, the state is one of the poorest in the Union and, thanks to fracking, is the country’s third-largest oil producer.) Chief among them is legislation that would require all new construction (homes and schools) in New Mexico to incorporate solar panels and mandate that 75 percent of all state-government vehicles be electric-only. Another bill would require dramatic reductions in “carbon intensity” for vehicles purchased by everyday New Mexicans. The technology to reduce carbon-intensity of New Mexico vehicles is left unsaid because the regulation would oblige fuel producers to work this out for themselves.

Writing for the Albuquerque Journal, two Democratic state legislators explained the proposals:

By requiring fuel providers that refine, blend, make or import fuel used in New Mexico to gradually reduce the carbon intensity of the transportation fuel itself, we can reduce emissions by 4.7 million metric tons in carbon dioxide equivalent by 2040. That’s like taking 44,000 cars off the road every year for 15 years. A clean fuel standard would not apply to retail gas stations or cause cost increases at the pump.

Yet, the heavy-handed, economy-killing efforts in New Mexico and in various state capitals across the country will do little to rein in global CO2 emissions. In fact, CO2 emissions are already being curbed in the United States through a combination of market forces and government policies. The real problem is that emissions are exploding elsewhere, most notably in China.

In late 2020, Forbes noted that U.S. CO2 emissions already comply with the Paris agreement. Goosed by an 11 percent drop in CO2 emissions in 2020 due to COVID-19–induced travel reductions, the United States has seen emissions drop since the mid 1980s. Nowadays, despite a population that is 40 percent larger than it was in the mid 1980s, U.S. CO2emissions are approximately the same as they were back then. This is a remarkable feat.

Indeed, the combination of a long-term shift in electricity generation from coal to natural gas (in no small part thanks to fracking), along with the energy efficiency generated both by market competition and regulatory pressure, fuel-mileage mandates, and the Clean Air Act, have made the United States a more CO2-efficient national economy.

China, on the other hand, is not just rapidly increasing CO2 emissions, it is massively expanding coal-fired electricity production. According to Voice of America, “China put 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020, more than three times the amount built elsewhere around the world and potentially undermining its short-term climate goals.”

Furthermore, according to research released on Wednesday by Global Energy Monitor, China’s coal-fired fleet capacity rose by a net 29.8 GW in 2020 (including decommissions), even as the rest of the world made cuts of 17.2 GW.

China, which still has millions of citizens living in real poverty, certainly has a right to develop its economy. But if the Biden administration is serious about addressing climate change, it ought to use the bully pulpit to cajole China to move toward lower CO2 intensity. After all, China is already the global “leader,” with CO2 emissions approximately doubling those of the United States. Those emissions rose even during the pandemic year of 2020.

Even if the Biden administration and states such as New Mexico make a concerted and focused effort to reduce CO2emissions (an open question to say the least), the United States won’t be able to halt climate change. Any CO2reduction we make is only displaced by a doubling from China, who seems more serious about developing its own economy than the Biden administration and many “blue” states like New Mexico are about theirs.

President Joe Biden and New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham telling us to pay more for energy while destroying thousands of energy jobs is a hard pill to swallow even if we were to make serious progress toward achieving our climate goals. But to do immense damage to the U.S. and New Mexico economies while allowing American progress on CO2 emissions to be undermined by our economic and geopolitical rivals in China is woefully misbegotten.

Image result for china coal plant