Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a multi-part series on the Interim Legislative Economic and Rural Development Committee meeting held July 14-15 at the Western New Mexico University J. Cloyd Miller Library.

By Mary Alice Murphy

Sen. Ron Griggs presented Application of Oil Conservation Rules to the members of the Interim Legislative Economic and Rural Development Committee in Silver City on Tuesday, July 14.

"We need as legislators to be able to address issues," Griggs said. "Otero Mesa became a hot-button issue. The Bureau of Land Management drafted the most difficult rules. Richardson thought they weren't effective, so he sued the BLM. Since then, there has been no oil-and-gas exploration in Otero County. This rule killed almost all of Otero County, except for the Lincoln National Forest and the Mescalero Apache reservation.

"It was overreach to get Otero and Sierra counties to stop oil-and-gas exploration," Griggs said. "I think we should all agree that the state was in a rush to promulgate rules that impact the whole county, when it only affects a small portion of that county. The rule stated we could not have a pit in that part of Otero County or in part of Sierra County. If a company does drill in Otero County, it has to haul the cuttings to a disposal area in Lea County, which would cost about half a million dollars."

He said the rule kills economic development in Otero County. "Oil and gas provide one third of our state budget. More oil-and-gas exploration and development would be good for one of the poorer counties in the state—Otero. The rule was done without talking to the county. The bill applied only to Otero County and part of Sierra County, unless another county officially requested to be part of the rule. For instance, Santa Fe County implemented the rule."

"My bill SB 601 would allow a county to request reinstatement and retention of a county in the rule," Griggs explained. "It's the people of the county requesting the retention or elimination of the rule. The bill provides a simple means to retain the rule by the people of a county.

"What I wanted to do with this committee is make you aware of the issue," Griggs said. "We have the opportunity to put people to work to bring in revenue to New Mexico. We have the opportunity to address the issue that the state should not dictate to counties what they have to do. The heavy hand of the state can easily be abused."

Sen. Richard C. Martinez said he serves on the Conservation Committee, where the bill died. "I think the Conservation Voters of New Mexico opposed it."

Griggs agreed that the group opposed his bill, and he said the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources requested amendments, which were added. "There were two bills being considered at the same time. One was a bill that Mora County could not tell the state what to do, and this one, which was that the state could not tell a county what to do."

"I don't intend to damage the environment," Griggs said. "If a county wants to retain the rule, that's fine."

Rep. Rick Little asked what the argument was against the bill.

"There were political issues in the Senate that day," Griggs said. "There were environmental groups that didn't want it passed. We can work with Otero Mesa. We can protect that part of the county. There are things we can work out. The Legislature says we can't have it, but we need to make the rule reasonable and fair."

Rep. John Zimmerman said he thought the bill was trying to level the playing field.

Griggs agreed and said his bill would allow equal treatment that other parts of the state have.

Committee Chairman Benny Shendo said he voted against the bill, because special rules can be applied to parcels.

"Yes, the Galisteo Rule applies for Santa Fe County," Griggs said. "The rule that was passed was intended only for Otero Mesa, but when it was implemented, it impacted more of Otero County."

Rep. Debbie A. Rodella said she appreciated the explanation Griggs gave. "Are there any other alternatives to this bill? We are having a lot of state agencies circumventing statutory public input. Perhaps there is another way to get where you want to go. I can attest to no consistency in the rulemaking process."

"It really impacted our county," Griggs said. "Everybody wants the revenue that would help our county. We need to look at rulemaking so it's done in a way that's consistent."

Zimmerman said the inconsistency could affect a lot of areas. "For instance, mining uranium is not the same as mining copper. One size does not always fit all."

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