FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: June 1, 2023
Joey Keefe, Assistant Commissioner of Communications
Commissioner Garcia Richard Bans New Oil and Gas Leasing within One Mile of Schools
State Land Office staff to review existing leases near educational institutions
SANTA FE, N.M. – At a press conference today New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard announced a new executive order that places a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on state trust lands within one mile of schools or other educational facilities. The moratorium does not apply to tribal, federal, or private lands. The order goes into effect immediately and remains in effect until further notice.
In addition to prohibiting new oil and gas leasing near schools, the executive order also mandates State Land Office staff to review all existing oil and gas mineral leases, business leases and rights-of-way located within one mile of a school or other educational institution, and assess their compliance with applicable requirements, including the obligation to plug inactive wells, remediate spills and adhere to relevant air quality standards.
“As the first teacher to lead the agency responsible for generating revenue for New Mexico’s schools, I understand that this work is meaningless if we don’t protect our kids,” said Commissioner Garcia Richard. “There is no reason to greenlight operations that produce dangerous pollutants so close to schoolkids when we have millions of acres of state lands to work with. Ultimately, we need a public health buffer around schools enshrined in state law, and this order provides an opportunity to engage the Legislature, regulatory agencies and other stakeholders on developing a comprehensive and long-term solution. I’m grateful to the advocates here today who have been standing tall to defend the health and safety of kids across New Mexico.”
The New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands has broad constitutional and statutory authority to determine the best uses of state lands, including prohibiting certain activities if the Commissioner feels it is in the best interest of the trust. State law also charges the State Land Office and other relevant agencies with ensuring that communities are free from pollution and its harmful effects.
New Mexico law does not currently specify a minimum required health and safety setback – or the distance between oil and gas drilling and other structures – for operations near schools, a requirement that has been codified into law in around a dozen other states. The executive order issued by Commissioner Garcia Richard provides an administrative solution to the problem on state lands for now. Codifying a permanent minimum setback in state law would require statutory changes by the New Mexico legislature.
“It’s outrageous that kids at schools like Lybrook Elementary are exposed to toxic emissions from oil and gas every day. These are vital protections for communities like ours. We hope all state agencies get the message that they need to do more to protect kids and communities.”
–Samuel Sage, community services coordinator of the Navajo Nation Chapter of Counselor.
I think it is important to have a Land Commissioner that understands the relationship between health and academic success. As educators, we see too often how health problems including asthma and respiratory conditions harm students and can lead to lifelong health issues. Growing children are vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollutants, and as citizens we must do everything we can to protect our children. Thank you, Commissioner Garcia Richard, for keeping our children out of harm’s way.”
-Mary Parr-Sanchez, President, National Education Association-New Mexico
“We applaud Commissioner Garcia Richard for halting new oil and gas leasing on state trust lands near schools and taking steps to ensure that state trust lands are managed in a way that protects environmental and public health. Children are especially vulnerable to a wide range of environment-related health concerns, and the pollutants that are often released from oil and gas production cause disproportionate harm to children’s well-being. The Commissioner’s actions are important steps forward towards creating healthier environments for New Mexico’s kids to grow and thrive.”
-Amber Wallin, Executive Director, New Mexico Voices for Children
“Let’s hope this order puts an end to kids paying for their education with their health. Kids growing up in the Permian Basin will all live with the consequences of climate change, but they shouldn’t also have their bodies harmed from the start by toxic oil and gas pollution. I’m hopeful that lawmakers and decisionmakers will all follow the State Land Office in putting children’s health first.”
-Kayley Shoup, Community Organizer, Citizens Caring for the Future. “
“This order addresses the grim irony that the oil and gas industry provides funding to these schools, while simultaneously poisoning the children who attend them. “Protecting our kids from oil and gas pollution is crucial, but we need health-and-safety setbacks across New Mexico. Until we get protections in place across the state, children will still be poisoned in the places they live, study and play.”
-Gail Evans, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute
Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard has overseen the New Mexico State Land Office since 2019. In that time the agency has raised more than $5 billion for New Mexico public schools, hospitals, and universities. Over 13 million acres of state trust land are leased for a variety of uses, including ranching and farming, renewable energy, business development, mineral development, and outdoor recreation. The State Land Office has a dual mandate to use state trust land to financially support vital public institutions, while simultaneously working to protect the land for future generations.