From Education to the Environment

The head of the state land office is one of the most powerful positions in New Mexico, responsible for overseeing 21 million acres of public trust land that generate hundreds of millions of dollars to support early childhood programs, schools, hospitals and other beneficiaries. Searchlight New Mexico posed eight questions to the five candidates for the office, focused on each one's vision for stewarding the public trust lands and how the office can help our state's children.

Only two responded.

You can explore those responses — which are thoughtful and nuanced — using this tool. Click each image to jump to that candidate's bio and the questions we posed, and click the links to expand and contract his or her responses.

This page was published May 22, 2018 and updated May 23, 2018 to correct the name of an award given to Stephanie Garcia Richard.

Garrett VeneKlasen

My passion for the Land Office stems from my career exploring and conserving New Mexico’s state trust and national public lands. I spent most of my career as the owner of a small travel company, helping people explore public lands around the world. Before becoming the Executive Director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, I was the Southwest Director of Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project as well as Trout Unlimited’s New Mexico Public Lands Coordinator. I am outspoken against the transfer of national public lands to individual states. I was born and raised in New Mexico and am fluent in Spanish. I have a deep appreciation and understanding of core New Mexican cultural values. I live in Santa Fe with my wife, Annie, and daughter Ava.

Land commissioner is one of the most powerful positions in New Mexico. The job comes with broad responsibility over millions of acres of public land - along with the power to sell, lease or trade state trust lands on the commissioner’s own authority. What in your background qualifies you for this position?
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For the last decade, I have devoted my career to advocating for environmental protection and social justice issues focusing on Native American and immigrant rights. I’ve served as the Southwest Director of Trout Unlimited, managing staff and campaigns in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. At Trout Unlimited, I focused on water policy and protection, watershed restoration, threatened and endangered trout reintroduction and protection, and landscape scale conservation through federal mandates such as the Antiquities Act, National Conservation Areas, Special Management Areas, and wilderness designation. Federal landscape resource management planning — especially relating to oil and gas development in Colorado and New Mexico — was a focal priority.

After Trout Unlimited, I served (currently on sabbatical) as executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF). Over a four-year span, NMWF helped protect more than 2.5 million acres of public lands, playing a critical role in the designation of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, the Columbine Hondo Wilderness, and transferring the Valles Caldera National Trust into the hands of the National Park Service. NMWF specializes in state and federal natural resource planning and policy work with a special focus on oil, gas and mineral development. NMWF also drove state policy around the protection of threatened and endangered species. NMWF partnered with Native American tribes to create unique youth outdoor education programs for tribal youth.

I am a leading national voice opposing the public lands transfer movement. In 2016, I traveled to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and confronted Ammon Bundy and his gang of public lands thieves. By sabotaging Bundy’s press conference, I helped to change the narrative of that situation and contributed to severely weakened public support for the Bundy public lands seizure movement.

My unparalleled knowledge of state and federal natural resource policy and planning uniquely positions me to implement paradigm shifting changes in Western land use policy at a historic moment for national and global environmental interests. Across New Mexico there are millions of acres of state trust lands. Beginning in the 1800s, state trust lands were granted to states upon their entrance into the union for the sole purpose of generating income for public institutions, particularly schools. To this end, the lands were managed, leased, or sold for a range of uses, including mining, grazing, and agriculture to satisfy their fiduciary trust responsibility.

However, antiquated trust responsibility perceptions and case law that governs state trust lands often constrain the ability of trust managers to adapt to new demographic and economic forces, and these pressures also bring trust management issues into the public view.

These challenges create a critical need — and a real opportunity — to explore additional means of generating revenues that serve the trust beneficiaries while aligning trust activities with the economic futures of western communities.

Progressive trust land managers must respond to these challenges with visionary new strategies and approaches. Much work needs to be done to create a substantive framework that creates a land and natural resource management model that transitions from one of consumptive use to one of sustainable use.

We need a 21st century land and natural resources management vision that includes social justice, environmental justice, and cultural frameworks. Then, with specific policy and legislative initiatives, the potential for state trust lands is truly limitless!

I received my BA in Latin American Studies from UNM with minors in Portuguese and Spanish. I was born and raised in New Mexico and am fluent in Spanish. I have a deep appreciation and understanding of core New Mexican cultural values.

What new initiatives – or departures from past policy – do you intend to pursue?
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Renewable Energy Production. New Mexico should be the global leader in renewable energy. As a state we must commit to 100 percent renewable energy electric generation.

As Commissioner, I will ambitiously increase the production of renewable energy on state trust lands. This is a core component of my vision for the office. With 9 million acres of state trust lands scattered throughout the state, the State Land Office must be at the forefront of a renewable energy revolution in New Mexico. Comprehensive planning and collaboration are critical if we are to reach a state renewable energy portfolio in excess of 50 percent by 2030. Bringing together the best and brightest NGO minds, industry leaders, and forward thinking elected officials to actually draft an updated and comprehensive plan is critical in order to fast-track the implementation of such a plan. For the renewable energy industry, the State Land Office is arguably the best business partner for an ambitious and visionary large-scale renewable investment in the state. The New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands has the flexibility to allow industry to build out its infrastructure with reduced initial land lease expenses and only begin paying the Land Office when it is actually producing energy. This is a huge incentive for the industry.

As Commissioner, I will also play a personal, active role in lobbying the legislature to push through an ambitious renewable energy portfolio standard. The Commissioner, the Governor, the legislative leadership, PRC members, and congressional delegates will all need to work together to reach our common goals. This will take close communication and collaboration if our goals are to be realized, and I look forward to playing a strong role in this collaboration.

Building to scale will also require collaboration with tribes, with the Department of the Interior, and with private landowners, especially when it comes to the planning and placement of new utility lines. Infrastructure build out and line placement must meet high environmental standards that mitigate habitat degradation/fragmentation and other related impacts.

In an interview with the Deming Headlight last year, I was quoted saying that if I were Commissioner of Public Lands, I would be telling the Trump administration they have to build the wall “over my dead body.” Needless to say, I’m pretty passionate about this issue.

The proposed border wall would arguably fragment THE most critical wildlife corridor in all of the Americas. New Mexico’s Wildlife Federation’s ongoing border wall opposition initiative — which brings environmental and social justice together — has already created an outstanding community framework (conservation/environmental groups, faith, tribes & veterans) model on both sides of the border. I am fluent in Spanish and already have Mexican connections through our Nuestra Tierra initiative giving me an ideal perspective and platform to push back on the Trump administration in a remarkable new way.

The State Land Office’s deep bench of legal experts might also offer a great opportunity for litigation against the Trump administration. This needs to be explored. The Commissioner of Public Lands has virtually no mandated oversight or transparency even though he manages 9 million surface acres and 13 million acres of subsurface minerals worth billions of dollars. This needs to be immediately and permanently changed.

I began my campaign by calling out the historic “smoke-filled back room” business culture of the Land Office and calling for mandating permanent new standards of transparency and accountability. As Commissioner, I will modernize the office, and its day to day business. The agency’s website should have an interactive map showing any and all agency business in real time. The agency must shine a light on its day to day business, while literally opening the doors of the office for greater public involvement and broad public engagement on the management of SLO resources.

The State Land Office and the Commissioner of Public Lands should be governed by a whole new set of transparency/accountability standards. These should be permanently changed through statute and rule and can be implemented in the first year in office.

As part of the permanent mandated accountability/transparency statute changes described above, the State Land Office should have real time reporting on any and all leasing, commercial transactions, and land swap/sales on its website. Any citizen should be able to log on and type in a keyword or specific location and receive real-time information of the State Land Office’s ongoing day-to-day business. The website should also have a statewide interactive map with waypoint pins featuring any relevant and ongoing agency business. The agency should also have a public computer bank with a State Land Office staffer in the office who helps citizens easily find detailed information about specific tracts of state land.

The State Land Office should be required to hold public meetings and have a public comment structure (similar to the public input structure for national public lands) on development plans that have significant impacts on landscapes, communities, watersheds/aquifers, wildlife, or the environment.

Participatory government is also fundamental to my approach. Again, as part of my recommended transparency platform, I believe that public meetings and a public comment period similar to the decision-making process of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forestry Service needs to be permanently put in place — through statute and rule-making — for any and all significant development plans and or land swaps or sales by the State Land Office.

Several other states have a state-based NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and the Montana model — with some upgrades — could be an excellent model for New Mexico to follow.

Annually, the outdoor recreation industry in New Mexico generates $9.9 billion. The State Land Office to this point has completely missed the mark on ecotourism and outdoor recreation. Its outdoor recreation permitting process is onerous and restrictive. Access into state lands and recreational use is highly discouraged. Camping opportunities are almost non-existent.

Along with renewable energy production, I view expanded eco-tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities as an integral part of leveraging our public lands to support education in our state.

Locations such as White Peak, the Luera Mountains, Sierra Grande, select lands in the bootheel, and lands like the tract next to Clovis — which has the greatest warbler diversity in the U.S. — should be managed and marketed specifically for their recreation and wildlife values.

The State Land Office should begin an aggressive program to restore these properties for their outdoor recreation, wildlife, and cultural values. The first thing I will do is give the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish back the $800,000 annual increase that the current Commissioner imposed for a sportsmen’s lease. In return, I will require New Mexico Department of Game & Fish to sign an MOU with the State Land Office guaranteeing they will commit at least $4 million annually to wildlife, watershed, and recreation-related restoration and improvements.

As restoration and infrastructure improvements happen, the next step is to map out a targeted international marketing campaign for specific ecotourism and outdoor recreation audiences. These specific audiences include the international birding, mountain bike, wildlife viewing, horseback and trekking/hiking, geocaching, and rock climbing communities.

For example, the State Land Office, with New Mexico Department of Game & Fish funding, could build out mountain bike/hiking/horseback trails on White Peak with designated campsites, parking, and road improvements and then market these to specific national/international recreation audiences.

The Continental Divide Trail across New Mexico is another outstanding project. The Continental Divide Trail runs through or near both the above-mentioned “heirloom” locations creating a tourism thread that can and should be part of a greater offering co-marketed by the State Land Office, New Mexico Department of Tourism, local guides and outfitters, New Mexico Department of Game & Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), county commissions, and chambers of commerce.

The Luera Mountains, on the northern edge of Mexican grey wolf habitat, should be managed and marketed exclusively for its wildlife values and could be a western state model of successful revenue generation.

And of course the bootheel, with its ecological diversity like no other in the nation, should also have large tracts managed for its wildlife values.

Wildlife Protection and Management
As Commissioner, I will be a loud voice in the legislative arena backing new laws to create a permanent structure for protecting endangered species. The Montana and California Environmental Policy Act model legislative initiative has components of this idea. Furthermore, the previously mentioned restoration initiative focusing on State Land Office tracts with outstanding habitat values will complement each other. An ambitious habitat restoration initiative in the Luera Mountains should be inclusive of a Mexican grey wolf reintroduction/expansion plan. Similar restoration initiatives for prairie chickens and sand dune lizards have huge implications on state lands.

When I’m elected, the State Land Office will do an immediate species landscape assessment using United States Fish and Wildlife Services data to determine not only which state tracts impact these species, but which tracts have the greatest potential for habitat restoration for these particular creatures.

Modernized ecosystem-specific landscape/habitat assessment protocols similar to those used on federal public lands for grazing are a good start. Restoration focused on grass banking is another interesting approach.

A science-driven landscape scale restoration planning model can and should be adopted by the State Land Office. The good news is the Commissioner has the authority to create and implement a plan.

Incentivizing permittees to restore their leased lands — with a focus on habitat improvement and watershed functionality will go a long way to modernize grazing practices on state lands.

Creating an advisory board with progressive ranchers in the Quivera and Western Landowners Alliance to formulate a substantive conservation-centric grazing model is an integral part of my overall conservation plan.

Existing regulations do not go far enough to protect this precious resource. As commissioner, I’ll beef up these policies and drive new legislation that sets a statewide standard for groundwater quality on state trust lands.

Several massive aquifers need to be specifically addressed in this conversation including the Ogallala Aquifer. Another sits under Otero Mesa, which is in the process of being explored for both oil and gas resources as well as rare earth minerals. It is arguably the largest, purest, and most untapped aquifer in the southwest. A second massive deepwater saline aquifer — one of the nation’s largest — exists in the southeast corner of the state. Because this aquifer exists beyond a depth currently regulated by state water statute, there is massive potential.

There is no specific New Mexico water law regulating nor adjudicating deep aquifer saline water in New Mexico. Solar technology now exists to desalinate water at reasonable cost, so a smart investor could come in and do just that. The State Land Office — and a shrewd Commissioner — could capitalize on this resource. In fact, an entire agricultural investment could happen on state lands for water-smart crops like hemp.

But at what cost to surrounding freshwater aquifers like the Ogallala? A deep and thorough analysis of this issue needs to begin immediately so a well intended water project with unintended consequences doesn’t happen.

A third consideration also needs to be addressed in the Plains of San Agustin. The precedent of large private water users moving vast quantities of water from one basin to another have local, regional, and even western consequences that need to be carefully addressed through planning and policy goals. As with the modernization of all of the State Land Office natural resource management laws and policies, the conservation community needs to sit down and craft a complete new water framework that acts as a new and progressive western water model.

Do you approve of President Obama’s declaration of ​the 496,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument? If not, why not?
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Yes! At the New Mexico Wildlife Federation I was honored to be a leading voice and an on-the-ground organizer in support of this monument.

Environmentalists, tribes, and sportsmen and -women from across the state worked for over a decade to legislatively protect lands around the Organ Mountains from irresponsible development, diminished access or disposal. After Congress failed us again and again, we were thrilled when the president stepped in.

Land grant funds are at an all-time high of $22.3 billion and polls show that a majority of New Mexicans support tapping 1 percent from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. If you do support ​taking an additional distribution from the LGPF to pay for such programs, how do you plan to offset the decline to public and early education within 26 years, as projected by the State Investment Council? Obviously, the money is not free. Would you contemplate a tax increase?
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Not only will the investment we make in early childhood education pay for itself dozens of times over within that time period, I have described above how investing into renewable energy on state trust land and opening these lands to ecotourism and recreation will create huge new sources of revenue for our state.

Fiscal conservatives say that tapping the fund would be akin to “raiding” money that is meant to be a hedge against future downturns in oil and gas royalties. Advocates argue that it’s intended for a “rainy day.” What’s your definition of a rainy day? Is it raining now?
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It’s an absolute hurricane right now! We WILL hedge against oil and gas downturns with clean energy investments and methane capture that will create jobs and generate millions in sustainable revenue for our state.

As you know, New Mexico is the source of one of the highest concentrations of methane emissions in the nation. The oil and gas industry has argued that reducing these emissions is so costly and burdensome that more regulations will take away from programs for kids. Do we have to choose between the environment and our children? And how will you address the problem of methane emissions?
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We will never have to choose between the environment and funding education for our children. It’s a false choice pushed by oil and gas special interests. I also believe we’re missing a huge opportunity when it comes to methane. I am in full support of state-mandated methane capture. If implemented correctly, mandated methane capture is actually a job creator and industry booster. Squandering a valuable commodity is fiscally reckless. The revenue methane capture generates would be a considerable boost to our public schools and institutions and a smart investment for our children’s future. And there are companies right here in New Mexico who have the technology to implement, which would also create jobs in our state.

If New Mexico is to be top producer of oil and gas in the nation, it should at the same time set a new bar on regulatory standards for the industry. This includes mandated methane capture, higher bonding rates on development, a state-based Environmental Protection Act, and a frack-free statewide watershed/aquifer protection act with stricter environmental impact regulations that are the gold standard for federal and state environmental policy such as a statewide watershed and aquifer protection bill.

How do you intend to protect wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, while maximizing income for New Mexico?
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Please see above sections on wildlife protection, ecotourism, recreational opportunities, watershed and aquifer protection.

Is it feasible to generate income through the recreational use of state land? If yes, how?
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Yes! Absolutely! Please see above section on recreation.

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Stephanie Garcia Richard

I am a native New Mexican and lifelong educator who has worked both abroad and in Northern New Mexico. Born in Tucumcari and raised in Silver City, I learned at a young age the importance of serving others. My father, a WWII veteran, was a teacher; my mother was active in our church and community. I grew up in a family that ranches on the eastern plains and the northern mountains of New Mexico, giving me a strong connection to the lands of our state. I went to Barnard College at Columbia University in New York and followed in my father’s footsteps in becoming a teacher. Having worked abroad and around the country, I returned home to New Mexico with my husband to raise our family. Today, I am a curriculum coordinator for Pojoaque schools and have served for six years in the Legislature, where I am chair of the House Education Committee. I taught at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school, a charter school and in the public school system. I have seen firsthand how public policies and a lack of funding can impact our children and our communities, and I know we must transform the State Land Office if we want to make New Mexico better for generations to come.

Land commissioner is one of the most powerful positions in New Mexico. The job comes with broad responsibility over millions of acres of public land - along with the power to sell, lease or trade state trust lands on the commissioner’s own authority. What in your background qualifies you for this position?
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Six years as a Legislator in the most competitive House District — awarded "Spirit of Bipartisanship" award from New Mexico First for work done to increase transparency and pass bipartisan legislation to move New Mexico forward.
Experience crafting the State Land Office budget and addressing their short-term needs.

Management/HR experience
Overseeing the New Mexico budget and investments while on HAFC.
Lifelong educator — committed to the wellbeing of our children, teachers, and schools since day one.
Endorsed by Conservation Voters & Sierra Club 2010-2016
CVNM Champion in 2015
Animal Protection Voter Champion for work done with bears (sponsored 2017-HB 109 to mandate the humane treatment of bears) and to end coyote killing contests (2013-HB 316)
Stood up against the La Bajada Mine in Santa Fe County: Attended County Commission meetings to speak and oppose the mine, and worked with community members to lobby county officials in opposition
Protested to stop leasing Chaco Canyon for fracking
Worked with a number of environmental groups including the Nuclear Issues Study Group to draft, recruit legislative cosigners, and send legislative request that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission delay the permitting process for interim waste storage facility until all safety concerns have been satisfactorily addressed (letter to NRC is attached)
Fought against fracking in Sandoval County. Worked with local residents to lobby Sandoval County Commission to stop fracking ordinance
Open Stream Access: Voted against closing access to public streams (2015-SB 226) and successfully sponsored a clean water amendment to the House version of this bill during floor debate (2015-HB 235)
Rejected the BLM Land Grab in Taos — publicly stood up to ensure that the beneficiaries of state trust land revenues and the people of New Mexico get the best land deal possible, instead of making due with expedient proposals that would leave the land office with inferior BLM disposal lands in exchange for pristine state land within national monument borders
Stood up to publicly demand transparency and remediation of encroaching chromium plume threatening drinking water
Worked closely with community members and local and state officials on issues such as evacuations, emergency operations and providing community members timely information related to multiple wildfires in my district, including the Las Conchas fire, Thompson Ridge fire, Coyote fire and others.
Worked with community and government stakeholders on long-term fire mitigation strategies, and efforts to address the damage caused by burn scars, flooding and property damage
Served as a member of the Nuestro Rio Regional Water Caucus where I worked to restore health and funding to damaged watersheds, acequias and the effects of a long-term drought
Worked with ranchers and the federal government for clean water and the implementation of sustainable land use practices within the ranching industry.
Received Endorsement from “Frack Free Four Corners”, an activist group dedicated to tackling health and cultural effects of fracking on indigenous people, methane emissions, water contamination and other environmental concerns. Endorsement is in the Land Commissioner race.
As a legislator I prioritized using resources and capital outlay to support water projects and fire preventive efforts throughout our region. The vast majority of my capital outlay allocations were directed to these needs.

What new initiatives – or departures from past policy – do you intend to pursue?
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I am proud to have the endorsement of Commissioner Ray Powell and intend to start the first day reinstating the $700 million in renewable energy projects abandoned by the current Land Commissioner. New Mexico’s current multitude of challenges makes active stewardship not only important but critical to the continuance of the trust. These challenges include: drought, critical water shortage, diminishing habitat quality, risk of catastrophic wildfires, rising temperatures, invasive species, and destructive land use legacies.

Some opportunities to meet these challenges include:
Transforming destructive land use legacies into Sustainable practices by:
Informing applicants and lessees of current best management practices applicable to them.
Partnering with Jornada and NRCS to better support grazing lessees.
Applying for grants to incentivize and enable the development of grazing management plans. Working-land programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provide financial assistance to ranchers who adopt, install, or maintain conservation practices on land in production.
Approaching organizations such as Audubon Society that may be interested in subleasing lands valuable to their activities (i.e. bird watching, prairie dogs etc)
Partnering with Capulin Volcano National Monument to facilitate their grazing management plan with adjacent state trust lessees.
Partnering with National Park Service and other agencies to develop a landscape level invasive species management plan involving state trust lands.
Allowing for key sensitive areas to be placed on conservation easements
Transforming the risk of catastrophic wildfires into responsible fire mitigation strategies by:
Partnering with federal agencies for grant monies available for responsible thinning projects
Prioritizing watershed health
Engaging community and youth groups in restoration and other outdoor projects.
Developing reseeding projects for burned areas
Meeting our critical water shortages head on through bold decision-making by:
Reducing the further depletion of our groundwater by not approving or renewing any lease agreement that requires the drilling of fresh water wells on State Trust Lands.
Refusing to allow fracking in fragile aquifers
Water loss mitigation through landscape restoration
Requiring water conservation from state land lessees
Promoting non-water consuming activities on state trust land

In order to address these issues that are often interconnected, making them complex to address, I intend to implement a decision support system, using a variety of tools such as: GIS, predictive modeling and algorithms and asset inventory to analyze proposed landscape treatment and aid in making decisions about complex issues.

Lastly, there is $1.2 million in the State Trust Lands Restoration and Remediation Fund available for restoration services, but this is just a fraction of the funding needed to keep our land healthy.

Unfortunately the incumbent’s policies resulted in a reduction in the growth of renewable resource projects, thereby reducing the growth of the LMF and available funds for restoration projects.

The most direct way to grow the LMF is by growing the volume of renewable resource projects on state lands. HB 24 as passed allows up to $5 million to be placed in the State Trust Lands Restoration and Remediation Fund. I propose we grow this fund up to that point, and then I will return to the legislature and ask the body to eliminate the cap so as to further incentivize the growth of renewable projects to fund restoration.

Do you approve of President Obama’s declaration of the 496,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument? If not, why not?
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Yes, and we must do everything in our power to protect it.

Land grant funds are at an all-time high of $22.3 billion and polls show that a majority of New Mexicans support tapping 1% from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. If you do support taking an additional distribution from the LGPF to pay for such programs, how do you plan to offset the decline to public and early education within 26 years, as projected by the State Investment Council? Obviously, the money is not free. Would you contemplate a tax increase?
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I have sponsored the legislation to utilize an additional 1% for early childhood education. I propose increasing the cap on oil and gas royalties to match the rates of our neighboring states like Texas and diversifying our fund to make money off of renewable energy production to offset any declines.

Fiscal conservatives say that tapping the fund would be akin to “raiding” money that is meant to be a hedge against future downturns in oil and gas royalties. Advocates argue that it’s intended for a “rainy day.” What’s your definition of a rainy day? Is it raining now?
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The job of the Land Commissioner is to protect the solvency of the fund and ensure the greatest return for the 21 beneficiaries. Numerous studies have shown that the return on investment for early childhood education far exceeds the standard rate of return on investment portfolios. Using [an additional] 1% of the fund to pay for early childhood education is the smartest investment we can make. With that said, I do not support tapping the fund for other reasons and even voted against measures to raid the fund while serving as a legislator.

As you know, New Mexico is the source of one of the highest concentrations of methane emissions in the nation. The oil and gas industry has argued that reducing these emissions is so costly and burdensome that more regulations will take away from programs for kids. Do we have to choose between the environment and our children? And how will you address the problem of methane emissions?
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State Trust Lands are specifically designated to support the education of New Mexico children, and other beneficiaries, in perpetuity. The mandate is to act in the best interests of these beneficiaries, looking to the long-term.

The land office needs to make decisions with the recognition that the health of the environment, the economy, the public and the animals are inextricably intertwined; ensuring optimal revenue generation while preserving the land for future generations.

Because of the long delays in achieving Statehood in 1912, New Mexico already had a functioning land office with a Commissioner of Public Lands well before statehood. Because the New Mexico-Arizona Enabling Act was so extensive in its detailing of the use of school trust lands, the New Mexico Constitution actually contains relatively few provisions with regard to trust lands.

New Mexico’s Enabling Act identified a series of detailed restrictions on trust land dispositions. Most significantly, one major requirement is that trust lands and the natural products of trust lands may only be sold or leased “to the highest and best bidder at a public auction,” providing for only a few exceptions to this strict public auction requirement (New Mexico-Arizona Enabling Act, 36 Stat. 557 § 10).

This shows that over a hundred years ago, there was a deep respect and reverence for the land, and the goal of the State Trust Lands was not to make money at any and all cost. And that education and health care were valued as much as the natural resources residing in our state, something that indicates an understanding and a forward thinking ability that many leaders lack today. Managing these State Trust Lands requires a balancing act, and a thoughtful decision making process when it comes to the land’s exploitation to generate income.

Under the current leadership at the State Land Office, in 2017, 92.7% of the revenue came from Oil & Gas. This generated ~$554 millions in royalties in 2017, and another ~$70 millions in Oil & Gas rentals, bonuses & interest.

In contrast, 0.09 % of the revenue of the SLO came from wind & solar, with ~$0.47 millions in rentals.

As for production amounts, in 2017: 55.5 million barrels of oil were produced on trust lands (25% of State production); and 2.6 billion cubic feet of gas were produced (35% of State production).

So in 2017, New Mexico’s oil production on State Lands was responsible for adding almost 24 million metric tons of CO2 to our atmosphere. (0.43 metric tons CO2/barrel). In the US, CO2 emissions were 5,134 million metric tons in 2017.

When leased, state trust lands need to benefit the state as much as possible. In New Mexico, the royalty averages 18.75% for Oil & Gas Generation. It is 25% in Texas. Certain leases in Louisiana are as high as 60%.

New Mexico rates are the lowest of all western states, but unlike our neighboring states, we are capped at between 12% and 20%. The State Land Office is legislatively prohibited from increasing the percentage above these rates.

As Land Commissioner I will use my experience serving in the Legislature to pursue raising the cap to a level where we are comparable with our neighboring states and demand methane capture. This will generate more revenue from less extraction. I am proud to have the endorsement of Frack Free Four Corners for my commitment to ending fracking on State Trust Lands.

That being said, the oil and gas extraction on state trust lands accounts for only 25% of oil and 35% of gas extraction in the State of New Mexico.

It is important that we all understand and realize that transitioning from oil and gas to renewables is going to be an uphill battle, and yet it is absolutely crucial in the fight against climate change. Claiming that we can transition New Mexico into renewables in a few years is wishful thinking. Change takes time. And this kind of change even more so, since oil and gas production and generation has been going on for a century.

So although there is no denying that oil and gas leases will unfortunately continue to make up the overwhelming majority of funding generated from the State Land Office, I will work tirelessly to divest the SLO from oil and gas as much as possible, and to transform the office into a leader in advocating for investing in renewable energy and taking concrete action for addressing climate change.

I will look to best practices in other states in incentivizing the investment in wind and solar projects. There are hundreds of thousands of acres without oil & gas leases that are prime for renewable projects. And what the SLO can do is to start by encouraging solar and wind development, and implement the following steps (based on what Arizona State Lands are looking at):
Stimulate interest in solar and wind energy projects on state trust lands by conducting a comprehensive inventory of which parcels are most suitable for such projects.
Incentivize further solar and wind energy investigation of state trust lands by issuing special use permits in advance of a structured auction of those lands.
Expedite the lease of identified sites.
Issue commercial leases of 10 to 99 years for identified sites.
Develop a participation mechanism, which would auction land at lower prices, but allow the state to receive a share of revenues from the completed project.

In my six years as state representative, I have voted on countless pieces of legislation to provide tax credits for solar systems, as well as sponsoring legislation to encourage development of new technologies and businesses committed to lowering our carbon footprint (HB 562) and legislation to create renewable energy storage research incentives (HJM 10). Although a few pieces of legislation have passed, I strongly believe that we have missed critical opportunities to encourage this economic growth and lessen our budgetary dependency on oil and gas. We can do more, and as Land Commissioner I will focus the agency’s resources on moving New Mexico towards that vision.

How do you intend to protect wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, while maximizing income for New Mexico?
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Lands that have sensitive resources need to be treated differently, depending on their location, particular conditions, wildlife reliance and the state of their overall health.

Currently, the State Land Office (SLO) caters to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and to their demands, demands which might have short-term positive impacts, but long-term negative ones. As Land Commissioner, I will make sure we are seeking out land swaps that go after more than just the BLM disposal lands.

The SLO currently avoids swapping for land they believe will have important wildlife habitat, and I agree with that approach since BLM has four times as many staff to handle those difficult situations.

In the event that these lands already exist within the SLO, I would at a minimum place stricter protective conditions on any lease up for renewal and would seek the advice of the relevant experts, from researchers and scientists, to environmental organizations such as Wildearth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and others, to weigh in through an advisory board, on whether or not a lease should even be given. In addition, resources from the State Trust Lands Reclamation and Remediation Fund could also be utilized for sensitive habitat protection. It is simply not feasible to put sensitive lands up for profit.

As the only candidate in the race with a real track record of protecting animals, I will not do anything to further jeopardize any habitat, endangered, or otherwise. I’ve been named an Animal Protection Voter Champion for work done with bears (sponsored 2017-HB 109 to mandate the humane treatment of bears) and to end coyote killing contests (2013-HB 316).

Is it feasible to generate income through the recreational use of state land? If yes, how?
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State Trust Lands are already accessible for recreational and hunting purposes. However, there remains untapped potential in developing a low impact ecotourism economy that would both make our gems of public land available for enthusiasts and bring additional revenue to the beneficiaries.

Whatever we do we have to remember that care and concern for the land and its resources are our top priority, and that we do not put profits before stewardship.

That said, our beautiful landscape and excellent outdoor opportunities have made outdoor recreation a major industry for New Mexico, but it could be bigger. Even when accounting for population size, Arizona, Colorado and Utah have a larger economic impact from outdoor recreation.

We can grow this environmentally responsible industry by first recognizing that state trust lands are public lands that can be utilized. Opening select state trust lands up to responsible recreation is an easy way to generate some income, but we can still do more.

In 2013, the New Mexico Partnership, the non-profit organization charged by state government with the task of recruiting industry and jobs to New Mexico did something unusual. That spring, in response to the call of several local communities and elected officials, including myself, the New Mexico Partnership added the outdoor recreation industry to the targeted economic clusters they actively pursue.

Outdoor recreation and related industries could be the perfect industry to grow in New Mexico; environmentally sustainable, high wages and economic base, meaning the majority of their sales are to customers outside the state.

Using the idea of attracting businesses that want to locate where they can work and play, the NM Partnership courted industry and went to a few outdoor recreation tradeshows, but they didn’t make much progress and eventually the initiative lost steam as the Governor pushed to pursue “higher priority” industries.

One of the problems the New Mexico Partnership had in attracting outdoor recreation businesses, such as equipment manufacturers, wholesalers and repair shops to relocate to New Mexico was the lack of institutional partners at the state level, and defined access to outdoor spaces for R&D and utilization of equipment.

When elected, I intend to revisit this approach, working with community stakeholders, the environmental community and specific outdoor recreation industry clusters that make sense for New Mexico.

Recreational access works through the issuance of permits, depending on the particular recreational activity, i.e. hiking access, educational access or camping access.

I would love to see more encouragement for wildlife and bird appreciation and watching. The SLO would simply have to add a specific category for that particular goal. It is through immersion in and enjoyment of the land that people learn to appreciate and revere the land, wildlife and the environment.

Hunting requires permits and licenses. Since there already are approximately 9 million state trust surface acres in New Mexico (minus some lands withdrawn for hunting access), U.S. Forest Service land and Bureau of Land Management land and an additional easement on state trust land for fishermen, hunters and trappers which was purchased by the State Game Commission, I would partner with the Game Commission to responsibly extend more accessible areas for hunting and fishing, especially given the recent efforts and accomplishments of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which added an extra 12,000 acres in the White Peak Vicinity.

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Pat Lyons

I am a lifetime (third generation) resident of New Mexico and Owner/Operator of Lyons Angus Ranch. In addition to serving as a Commissioner of the Public Regulation Commission, I am an active managing rancher/farmer in New Mexico with a continuous cow/calf operation, buying and selling beef cattle, growing/ harvesting/ utilizing alfalfa. I was New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands, serving from Jan. 1, 2003 to Dec. 31, 2010. I was elected by the voters of New Mexico to represent and work for the benefit of the entire state of New Mexico. I was able to more than double the amount of revenue generated and distributed to beneficiaries, while maintaining the State Land Office on an annual flat budget for eight years.
I was a New Mexico State Senator from 1992 to 2002, elected by the voters to represent six counties in the northeastern quarter of the state.
In 1978 and 1979, I worked in the Department of Commerce, Agriculture Bureau.

In a statement to Searchlight New Mexico in April, a spokesperson for Pat Lyons’ campaign stated “Commissioner Lyons has decided that he will wait until the General Election to respond to questionnaires.”

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George Muñoz

George Muñoz did not respond to our request for a bio.

Muñoz did not respond to repeated inquiries from Searchlight New Mexico.

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Michael Lucero

Michael Lucero did not respond to our request for a bio.

Lucero did not respond to repeated inquiries from Searchlight New Mexico.

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