After reviewing hundreds of pages of protests, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said the agency is almost set to release a payment of nearly $70 million dollars for oil and gas leases to the state of New Mexico.
The spokeswoman, Donna Hummel, told NM Political Report Thursday afternoon that an oil and gas internal review process is complete and New Mexico could see the money in a few months.
“We feel confident that the state will have its lease payment of about $70 million by June 1,” Hummel said.
Hummel added the dollar amount New Mexico receives could change, though it’s unlikely.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, and the Democratic members of the delegation sent letters to the BLM urging the agency to release funds owed to the state.
The members of Congress cited New Mexico’s dire budget situation.
Pearce, in his letter, said his office was informed that protests from two different environmental groups were responsible for the delayed payment.
Hummel confirmed with NM Political Report that BLM received written protests from WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity and the agency was required to fully review all protests.
The Center for Biological Diversity submitted a 29-page protest while WildEarth Guardians sent a 1,200-page protest.
The money owed to the state came from a $145 million sale of oil and gas leases last September in the Roswell area. This was the federal agency’s largest lease sale ever, which is why Hummel said the payment issue received so much attention.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan urged the BLM to issue the payment to the state.
“Delayed receipt of these funds could worsen the state’s already precarious financial position, adding to the significant uncertainty of New Mexico’s current economic forecast,” the letter from Democrats read. “Furthermore, without this or other payments the state is counting on, New Mexico could end the fiscal year with negative reserves, which would violate the state constitution and could trigger extreme action.”
The state’s fiscal year ends on June 30, a month after the state is estimated to receive its money.
WildEarth Guardians Executive Director John Horning said he wasn’t aware that his organization’s protest was the reason for the delayed payment. He said the sense of urgency from Congress and state lawmakers highlight how overly dependent New Mexico is on oil and gas sales.
“It reminds me of a desperate junkie looking for his next fix,” Horning said.
Both letters from New Mexico members of Congress said they received a request from the state Legislature to look into the issue.
The rush to obtain the multimillion dollar payment comes just before Gov. Susana Martinez’s Friday deadline to act on legislation, including the state budget, and a promised special session.