COMMENTARY: I was prompted to comment on elected officials’ statements after reading about the increasing cynicism in government.

Courtesy photo

Neal Jones

The mistrust I uncovered was in the weekly round up from our congressional representative, Steve Pearce, dated Sept. 6, 2015. In it, Pearce voiced support for a Texas federal court decision “to invalidate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list the lesser prairie chicken (LPC) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).” There were a number of biased and misguided statements in his round up that need clarification.

Pearce’s opening statement claimed, “Yet another one of this administration’s job-killing, onerous regulations has been shot down by a federal court.”

The program that the court invalidated against the lesser prairie chicken is called the Policy for Evaluation for Conservation Efforts, known as the PECE Policy. It is not of the Obama Administration. It came in March of 2003 during the Bush Administration to develop conservation efforts that eliminate the threats to endangered species.

This Texas federal court decision ruled in favor of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA). Pearce’s statement included the term “job-killing onerous regulations,” so let’s look at statement related to the facts.

Not affecting job growth

According to the Permian Basin Petroleum Association’s Economic Impact Report from Aug. 29, 2014, the association of oil and gas companies sustains 94,000 New Mexico jobs and overall 546,000 jobs across the basin into Texas. That same report showed that while New Mexico had a 6.3 percent unemployment rate, Eddy County’s unemployment was 3.9 percent and Lea County’s unemployment was at 3.8 percent.

The period of the PECE Policy to protect the lesser prairie chicken did not affect the job growth with those PBPA companies in New Mexico.

As to being an “onerous regulation,” the PBPA boasts that the Permian Basin has the greatest rig content of any basin/region of any oil/gas area in the world. They further claim in that 2014 report that there have been “dramatic improvements in production since 2011.”

The association’s report shows that Eddy County has the highest oil production of any county within the New Mexico-Texas basin region. Whatever regulation that was instituted by the Department of Interior hasn’t been onerous in the growth of wells and rigs since 2011 — especially in New Mexico, where the Artesia District alone has grown to over 11,600 active wells (according to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division).

Was it the money? The PBPA boasts they contributed $8.5 billion in 2009 to improve people’s lives. The report shows an economic contribution of $10.2 billion to the gross state product of New Mexico. Pearce’s statement said “more than 180 oil and gas, pipeline, electric transmission and wind energy companies have enrolled in conservation agreements to prevent, minimize, or mitigate any impacts to the LPC from their operations. In the process, they committed $45.9 million in enrollment and impact fees to cover off-site mitigation actions.”

Let’s be clear here. The PBPA has over 1,000 member companies. If the PBPA members alone were to be responsible for that mitigation dollar amount, it represented just 1 percent of the 2009 contribution. The $45.9 million was the multi-year commitment from PBPA and over 179 other companies.

Lesser prairie chickens and a thriving industry

The PECE Policy in the Permian Basin, while it could’ve been managed better, was not of “this administration” — the policy was enacted during the Bush Administration. This policy has not been “job-killing,” with the oil industry in the basin sustaining 94,000 jobs and growing. The PECE Policy didn’t slow down oil drilling (especially in lesser prairie chicken habitats) and the PBPA says the basin is “immature” in oil extraction.

And the support agreed upon to support the PECE Policy wasn’t “onerous” in that the cost was pennies to the oil and gas industry when compared to total money it already contributes to people and environments in Texas and New Mexico.

I’m happy the lesser prairie chicken population has increased. I’m happy there is a responsible and thriving oil and gas industry in Eddy and Lea counties in New Mexico.

What is worse than a tree-hugger spiking your chainsaw is an elected official that continues to spew misinformation and blatant lies to those who elected him.

Jones has been an on-air personality and newscaster for radio stations and television stations in Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico and recently an international anchor/writer for “China Beat,” a daily news program in English from Blue Ocean Network, based in Beijing. He’s currently consulting and producing for KEDU in Ruidoso.

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