(Albuquerque) The Rio Grande Foundation today released documents obtained through an open records request by the nonprofit group Energy Policy Advocates (EPA), revealing that despite her public support of the oil and gas industry, political appointees of New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham flew to New York and participated in a July 2019 closed-door conference with wealthy anti-fossil fuels foundations for the explicit purpose of discussing “policy opportunities to reduce and eliminate natural gas.”
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), convener and funder of the event, are best known for financial support in campaigns against the Keystone XL pipeline, fossil fuel divestment and climate litigation. RBF grantees including Colorado State University, Georgetown University, and the Rocky Mountain Institute were sponsors. The Georgetown Climate Center in particular receives substantial funding from numerous foundations aimed at eliminating fossil fuels.
The New Mexico officials who attended the two-day get-together include Sarah Cottrell Propst, Secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and Sandra Ely, Director of the New Mexico Environmental Protection Division. The New Mexico officials’ travel and boarding were provided by Georgetown University, which receives grant money from the organizers of the conference.
Both the host organization, Georgetown Climate Center, and Interwest Energy Alliance, Cottrell Propst’s former employer, have received multiple grants from the Energy Foundation. Recall that Propst has already faced criticism from fallout from previous open records findings related to Interwest Energy Alliance.
The event was hosted behind closed gates at the Pocatino Center, which features “historic buildings, gardens, and collections of decorative and fine art” overseen by a Manager of Collections and Curatorial Projects. The center is “situated on the highest point in Pocantico Hills, overlooking the Hudson River at Tappan Zee,” with views of New York City 25 miles to the south.
The Meeting Agenda
According to the draft agenda, the meeting included “lead policy makers from trifecta (Blue) states taking action on climate change to share information on recent developments in their states and to strategize together on the most promising ways to accelerate the pace of implantation in response to increasingly ambitious climate goals being established by their governors and state legislatures.”
According to the “background memo” sent to the attendees prior to the event, “The top line Challenge-Opportunity is to move away from the use of natural gas in buildings as a first priority, then electricity, and industry, while simultaneously moving quickly to move transportation systems off petroleum” (emphasis added). The memo further states, “We are well past the point of using natural gas as a transportation fuel, and new policies and programs should explicitly avoid further ‘lock-in’ investments like natural gas fuel municipal buses or energy efficiency funding for natural gas equipment.”
The attendance of Cottrell Propst and Ely at this event contradicts the publicly stated positions of their Departments and the Lujan Grisham administration.
Lujan Grisham Administration’s Public Position on Oil and Gas
- Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham publicly supports the New Mexico oil and gas industry. “”I’m an advocate for the state of new Mexico, that means I’m an advocate for southeast New Mexico and all forms of energy including the fossil fuel industry.”,” she said last week.
- Cottrell Propst has echoed similar support in public: “New Mexico is an energy state, and oil and gas are an important part of our economy.” She has also pledged to collaborate with the industry: “And it’s really important to work with the industry. I don’t want them to think we are just going to start doing things to them.”
- Jim Kenney, Secretary of the Environment Department recently told a crowd, “It’s not about a ban on fracking, a moratorium on drilling, a stopping of oil and gas production at all.”
Importance of Oil and Gas to New Mexico
- Oil and gas extraction is New Mexico’s largest industry, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data compiled by 24/7 Wall Street. In 2017 – as the current boom was just taking off – oil and gas contributed $11 billion in GDP to the state economy. Industry workers make an average of $109,000 according to the analysis, which far exceeds the state’s median income. Additionally, the industry supports over 100,000 New Mexico jobs.
- The oil and gas industry accounts for more than a third of annual state tax revenue – and nearly 50% when permanent funds disbursements are included. Fiscal year 2019 revenues are exceeding expectations and the state is on track to collect a record $7.8 billion, driven primarily by oil and gas.
- Governor Lujan Grisham credited oil and gas for the allowing the state to increased public education spending and give 6% pay raises to teachers. “New Mexico is now leading the country in innovation and investments in public education. We called it a moonshot. You delivered the resources to make that a reality,” she told an industry gathering.
- Above the increased surplus spending approved during the last legislative session, this additional revenue “could allow for additional spending increases on public schools, roads, pension funds and other state programs,” according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing offered the following statement:
“Attendance at this event by staffers of the Lujan-Grisham Administration is puzzling. If the wealthy funders behind the conference are successful in their goal to end oil and natural gas development, it would be a near-fatal blow to New Mexico’s economy and would devastate the state’s finances. New Mexicans, especially those who work in the oil and gas industry or government (like educators) should be aware that their Governor’s highest staffers are pondering ways to eliminate the very industries that they rely on.”
This is a screenshot of the front page of 350.org, one of many prominent grantees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.