April 17, 2018

Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on the environment

Courtesy Photo

Jeff Apodaca

This week, we’re running a series of interviews with New Mexico’s four gubernatorial candidates, each of whom answered questions about issues related to water, energy and climate change. We kick off the series with Democrat Jeff Apodaca. Apodaca is a former media executive and the son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca.

NMPR: We’re coming off a bad winter and we’ve got drought returning to the state. What critical water issues will your administration tackle?

Jeff Apodaca: What critical water issues? We have no water issues. We have enough water to last a thousand years. Are you aware of this?


Jeff Apodaca: Do you know the state of New Mexico sits on one of the largest aquifers in the country? We have the most water in the country. But 90 percent of the water we live off is surface water. My point is, our water is a major issue. We’ve been fighting over it for hundreds of years. As governor there are three things I want to do immediately.

The first thing is, we need to go to the Supreme Court and break some of these water pacts. When we created these pacts, the snowpack and the water was a lot different. At the same time, we have technologies today, and there’s no reason we can’t have water lines and water pipelines all over the country now.

Whether you believe in global warming or not—I happen to believe in global warming—when you look at all the floods over the next 100 years, they’re going to be in four or five states east of Texas.  My proposal is, with the federal government and with the private sector, let’s start piping water from the East Coast.

I’ve looked at research, and the experts are telling me we’re in a 300-year drought, and the heart of the drought is the state of New Mexico. They’re telling me we’re in year 80, so we have another 220 years of this. I don’t think you and I are going to live 220 years, but we need to solve the problem.

So, one, I think we can pump water from [areas prone to] floods and we can push it around our country. As New Mexicans, we can lead that issue with Texas. If we get the water to Texas, we solve New Mexico’s water issue.

There are a couple of other things. We can irrigate much more efficiently, where we can save almost 50 percent of our surface water. I grew up in [Las] Cruces, and I have dear friends who are pecan farmers. They lose 50 percent [of their water] to evaporation. We know California and other states are already irrigating under the surface, and that saves 50 percent of the water. [For farmers] to do that, it costs them about $164,000, $165,000 a year. Over a ten-year period, that’s a couple of million bucks. It’s very expensive. But there is not a farmer I have met in my lifetime that if you went and said, ‘I’ll invest with you and you’ll save water’ that they’re going to say, ‘I don’t want to do that.’

We have this $23 billion [permanent fund in New Mexico] and our proposal is to create a billion dollars in low-debt financed loans for small New Mexico industries. Agriculture is 12, 15 percent of our economy. When I’ve talked to farmers, specifically the large farmers, [and said] ‘If you could borrow the money at a two and a half percent return,’ they’re willing to invest into this. But the problem is the bank loans and the commercial loans are 6 to 8 percent. They just can’t afford that.

Then we have to look at crops like hops, like hemp, instead of alfalfa, that use 75 percent less water. We have to look at fruits and vegetables, organic fruits and vegetables, and we have to create multiple co-ops, specifically up in the north and in central New Mexico. So, we’re coming up with ways where we’re growing things with less water, we’re growing things within co-ops that will be more efficient and will make more money for everybody, and we’re creating jobs and tax revenue.

But I don’t think that solves our problem.

We literally sit on aquifers that are the largest aquifers in the world, in the country. We have enough water down there to last 1,000 years, so why haven’t we pumped it up?

That’s because seventy five percent of the water is brackish.

In today’s world we have the technology: we can go down there, we can clean the water. Israel’s doing it, California is doing it, everybody’s doing it.

Some of the environmentalists will say, ‘Jeff, there are chemicals, there’s salt. What are you going to do with that?’ I’ve now found a couple of companies that have come up with recycling plants that can remove the salts and the chemicals and they’re [using them to make] building products. So, let’s go get that water, let’s build those plants here, let’s clean the brackish water, and then we can have water for ourselves. Today’s market is about $55 a barrel, which means Arizona, Texas, California, Nevada will buy our water. To me, I look at things as a commodity.

I would love to move away from fracking tomorrow, but let’s just be realistic. That’s not going to happen. I have some Democrats that are upset at me because I’m not going to say we’re going to get away from fracking. I’m just trying to be realistic to the voters. It’s 37 percent of our economy. But as governor, I want to regulate it and make sure we’re doing it the best way. And today, there are two companies in New Mexico that can literally clean the fracking water and make it fresh water.

One of the companies, I can’t say who they are, they’re about to move to Texas … because they couldn’t raise the money here. So this company is going to explode, it’s going to create jobs, and they’re going to do it in Texas.

I’ve been trying to explain why to my environmentalist friends [why the oil and gas industry is interested in water]. One, they’re interested in it because they see the pressure coming. They take six to eight percent of our freshwater out of the aquifer down in Carlsbad and Artesia, and they know I want to stop that. I know they need fresh water, and they own land rights. They have every right to the water. They’re not doing anything wrong. They’re just taking six to eight percent of the aquifer water.

[After they use that water, they put the produced water in wastewater pits] or they truck that water to someplace, like Texas, and they clean it up. Or, they put it back in the ground.

One company is building a prototype right now that can clean up the water. That’s going to cost about $3 million, and once they go into production they will have mobile units that can go to the site and clean the water. And either we can keep the fresh water or they can recycle it for fracking or we can pressure the ground with the fresh water. The oil industry told me it costs them between $750,000 and a million dollars to dispose of [produced] water per well. [The companies] are telling me their technology will clean the water on-site at about $300,000-400,000. So the oil guys would save about $500,000 to $600,000 per well.

NMPR: Revenue from oil and gas is an important part of New Mexico’s economy. But the industry also has environmental, public health and climate impacts. How will your administration balance these different issues?

Jeff Apodaca: New Mexico has to take the lead. I don’t want the federal government regulating us. With oil and gas, I’ve sat and talked to them [and said] ‘Look, let’s just work together and make sure we’re doing it the right way.’ We’re not moving away from fracking anytime soon, so I want to regulate it. I told them, we’re not going to frack at Chaco, we’re not going to frack around our aquifer, we’re not going to frack around the Native Americans’ precious lands.

Though, if the Jicarilla [Apache Tribe] wants to frack on their land, I will support their decisions. I’ve already made it very clear with the governors and the presidents of our pueblos and tribes, I will collaborate and work with you. I will not do anything on your land that you don’t want to do.

The short story, is I want to regulate at a state level, I want to work with oil and gas making sure that, if we have to flare, then let’s flare at the shortest amount of time. We all know there are methane leaks up in our northern part of the state, especially. Now, I will be very frank. I’ve been told today, the [satellite imagery of the methane hotspot] everyone is using is an older picture. If you took a picture today, I do believe the oil and gas guys have closed down some of the methane leaks, and it’s better. I’m not saying it’s great, just better.

When you really dig into it, the really bad methane leaks are wells that are still producing for families, and they’re mostly local families, but [the wells are] 30, 40, 50 years old. The newer wells really don’t have a lot of leaks. [Big companies like] ConocoPhillips, they’re all about money, so they’re basically going in and fixing their leaks and monitoring their leaks.

If Colorado can work with oil and gas and come up with regulations that they can live with, we can do the same thing. And then we can recapture [the methane and sell it] and the state could probably make an extra $30 to $50 million.

At the same time, I have a billion dollar investment plan for renewable energies. I can give you tax credits to get solar on your house or solar on this building, but I want to build major solar and wind farms to power Arizona, to power California. In today’s market, you can literally generate energy at four cents a kilowatt and sell it out of state for anywhere from 11 to 18 cents a kilowatt.

I don’t want to just lease out our land and have somebody else do it. I want revenue streams

so I’m going to invest with them. I want to bring PNM to the table—and I have environmentalists arguing with me, [asking] ‘Why we are talking to PNM,’ or ‘Why are we talking to the oil and gas guys?’ First of all, PNM is a holding company that’s sitting on about $4 billion. And the oil and gas guys are the main industry in our state making all the money. And guess what they’re doing? They’re investing in renewable energy—in Texas.

We have to collaborate and work with everybody, because this fighting back and forth, [and saying] who’s the enemy and who’s not, hey, man, we’re all New Mexicans. We all want to live here, you want your kids to stay here. So let’s start working together and solving all our problems. By doing that, we create jobs, tax bases and tax revenues, and that gives us more money for our schools, our health care, for more doctors, things like that.

NMPR: Under Gov. Martinez, from the very beginning, her administration backed away from earlier commitments on climate change—from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to studying the impacts of climate change to even cancelling a “Climate Masters” class the New Mexico Environment Department used to host.  What will your administration do to address mitigation and adaptation issues with respect to climate change?

Jeff Apodaca: We believe in the Paris Climate Agreement. I think there are 13 or 14 states that have agreed to support that, and I would support that same thing.

I think what Governor Martinez has done, not just with [the New Mexico Environment Department], she’s pulled back on everything….

I would make sure that people within [NMED] are not only environmentalists. But I think it’s important for people to have renewable energy expertise. We should have people with oil and gas expertise. All our industries should have a voice at the table. Everybody’s going to be at the table, have a voice at the table, and we will make sure we don’t cut back [on those agencies.]

NMPR: Along those same lines, the Martinez administration pulled back state agencies focused on natural resources, like NMED, the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission. Those agencies have lost expert staff, reduced some programs, and they won’t talk to the press anymore. Often, you can’t even get a public information officer to answer your questions. What direction will these agencies take under your leadership?

Jeff Apodaca: We would have open government….And some of these departments, you’re not getting public information because they probably don’t have people to get it to you. I’m not all about blowing up the government—I think sometimes we rely too much on government jobs in our state—but we do have to make sure we’re filling the positions.

I think that’s one of the biggest problems. Something people don’t talk about is, we’ve lost $600 million to $700 million a year in tax revenues, based on what we’ve lost—over 100,000 jobs, and 57,000 New Mexicans have left our state. When you lose jobs and you lose population, you lose revenue.

NMPR: What steps will your administration take on Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado, the Supreme Court lawsuit on the Rio Grande, which is handled by the Attorney General and its contract attorneys? If you were governor, how would you guide that case or those negotiations?

Jeff Apodaca: The governor is limited, because that’s the Attorney General’s job. But I would push the AG, [and say], ‘Let’s go fight that in the Supreme Court.’ And the argument has to be: Today’s world is a lot different than when these pacts were put together.

We have to sit down at the table, and not just Texas and us and Mexico. We have to sit down with the federal government, the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers and the private sector and say, ‘Here’s the plan for the next 300 years.’ It can’t just be New Mexico and Texas, but if you look at the drought that’s coming, it’s literally seven western states [that will be affected by drought].

As governor, I will lead an effort with all the western states and say, ‘We’ve got to solve our water problems.’ I’m an ex-athlete and I’ve been successful in pulling together public and private sectors. Why? Strength in numbers. If New Mexico tries to solve all our water problems like this by ourselves, we will probably fail.

We will solve some of our problems. But that’s why we have to start cleaning our brackish water. [The compact] doesn’t say we have to give [Texas] water from the Rio Grande. It doesn’t say we have to give them surface water. If we can clean it, and it’s water that’s usable, why can’t we send them that water?

Our political leaders immediately think, ‘Let’s fight over it, let’s get in a lawsuit, let’s battle it out.’ I think the opposite. I think a Supreme Court battle is the last thing we should be doing.

The first thing we should be doing, is [asking], ‘Can we sit down? Can we renegotiate? Can we talk about it?’ But if we’re relying on the snowpack, if we’re relying on surface water, then we’re going to have a major problem.

NMPR: What didn’t I ask you about, or what environment or natural resource issues in New Mexico don’t get enough attention?

Jeff Apodaca: I don’t think we talked about renewable energies enough. We have a plan to invest a billion dollars into renewables.

I think we can take $100 million and invest in New Mexico technologies and New Mexico renewable energies. Talking to our U.S. senators, … we have literally passed on about $400 million of renewable federal grant matching funds because the governor has to ask for it, and we’re not doing it. [We could get about $200 million in those funds.]

The other $700 million [could come from] PNM, which sits on $4 billion, and oil and gas. As New Mexico businesses, they have billions of dollars. At that same time … there’s a trillion dollars in the world looking to invest into long-term debt financing in renewables.

I talked to [companies based in Texas, California and Mexico] that want to come in and do this for us, but I don’t want to partner. I want to do wind and solar because I want to own some of that revenue stream.

We have a plan to invest a billion dollars … [and] part of that is upgrading our infrastructure. Our power lines literally go to Long Beach, California and southern California. … We’re like the center of traffic control for the power lines, so we can tap into that. I think that would be about a $900 million to a billion dollar investment, and it would be a long-term, smart plan.

We need to lead the country. We sit on a state that’s ranked second in renewable energy capabilities. But we’re ranked 48th in the country in production. It just doesn’t make sense.

A note from NMPR: All of this week’s candidate Q&A’s were edited for clarity and length, although we did not edit the meaning of candidates’ answers. We did not include, however, tangents or off-topic issues candidates raised during the course of the conversations. It’s also important to note that the candidate’s answers aren’t annotated and we don’t point out any possible inaccuracies or misstatements.