Karen Whitlock missed the Sun’s deadline for responding to our House District 35 candidates’ questionnaires for her and the Republican incumbent, whose answers were provided on time and were published in the Sun last week.
Although provided belatedly, Whitlock’s responses are still of public interest and are published here verbatim.
1. You have experience in environmental compliance. You worked for the State of Arizona’s Environmental Quality Division and Transportation Department, representing the government’s interests. You worked for Phelps Dodge, Tyrone Mine and HDR engineering firm, representing private-business interests.
Do you think New Mexico’s existing laws are sufficient to control the effect of oil and gas drilling and fracking on water use?
No, I do not think that New Mexico’s existing laws are sufficient to control the effect of oil and gas drilling and fracking on water use. Fracking uses a lot of water and while the oil and gas industry claims that they are able to reuse water from fracking it appears that they may not be able to clean the water enough to reuse. This is a huge problem particularly that we have very limited water resources in New Mexico and they oil and gas industry has been wasting a lot of that water.
2. Studies have shown that fracking is an extremely expensive way of extracting gas and oil, sustained by ongoing loans to stay ahead of the small profit margins. These profit margins went into negative numbers during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The state allowed companies to shut down wells with no provision for environmental cleanup in the event the company remains shuttered. The state also capped the companies’ public land- lease payments at $2 an acre.
The federal government modified the Main Street Lending Program to allow oil and gas companies that were already heavily in debt before the crisis to benefit from emergency-support loans and grants. The federal government also set up credit facilities that allowed the federal government to buy risky bonds from heavily in-debt gas and oil companies.
Do you support the gas and oil industries being bailed out by the state and federal government?
I do not support the oil and gas industries being bailed out by the state and federal government. All other extractive industries, such as coal and hard rock mining have to bond and provide closure/closeout plans which include remediation of any contamination that they have caused. It is time that the oil and gas industries no longer receive a free ride.
3. The state received 40 percent of its revenue from the gas and oil industry, pre-COVID-19.
What are the financial and environmental impacts of our budgetary dependence on fossil fuels?
The financial impact of New Mexico’s dependence on the oil and gas industry is huge, when oil and gas are flush the state has money and when they aren’t the state is left to cut the budget, most importantly in education. This is what has led to New Mexico being 50th in the nation in education. That is not acceptable.
But, what we need to do as a state is become less dependent on oil and gas so that we can afford a fracking moratorium, so that our state’s water and environment is no longer being held hostage by oil and gas. In order to be less dependent on oil and gas we need to as a state to find other sources of revenue that are not as cyclical and can be counted on during a recession. Examples are the film industry, outdoor recreation, and legalizing cannabis to name a few.
4. If the New Mexico Copper Corporation is able to acquire water rights to support the use of 7,000 acre feet a year for its estimated 12-year operation, do you think the state should provide the needed permits?
If the New Mexico Copper Corporation can comply with the conditions that have been placed on them, mainly to purchase the water rights for 7,000 acre feet, and comply with all environmental regulations, including bonding for closure/closeout and reclamation, then yes, they should be able to be permitted to operate. The problem is that they do not have enough money to purchase the water rights, and then pay for environmentally responsible operations, including closure/closeout reclamation. The state does not really have a choice in the matter if they can prove that they can comply with the laws.
5. You state New Mexico needs to “fund education first” because it is 50th in the nation.
Since New Mexico is among the four states getting the most federal funding for education and is 17th among the 50 states in the amount of state money spent on education, where would the money come from? And how exactly would you spend it?
The money at this point would need to come from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. Every state has a fund such as this for education. There are debates about whether and when this money should be used. Money already comes from this fund for early childhood education. New Mexico has the second largest Land Grant Permanent Fund in the country. Other states use much more of their Land Grant Permanent Funds for Education than does New Mexico.
We need to permanently increase the percentage of the interest coming out of the Land Grant Permanent Fund by an additional 1% in order to fund education. This money would be spent in the classrooms and by getting broadband to all schools. New Mexico is also under a court order to invest in underserved communities. We also need to invest in Community Schools where we can pull the whole family out of poverty. Community Schools will provide a one stop shop for families with School Based Health Centers, and social workers who can provide wrap around services, along with food pantries and other services for families in need.
6. Your campaign website says Sierra Vista Hospital is “in dire straits” and should get more state funding.
How much more funding, for what purposes and with what measures of governmental oversight?
Sierra Vista hospital is “in dire straits” as they struggle to provide services through the pandemic. However, the reality is that the Medicaid hospital funding formula for rural hospitals is lower than for hospitals like UNM. We need to change this funding formula in order to help rural hospitals in the state survive. We need to make it an even playing field.
In addition, during the [Governor Susana] Martinez administration, the budgets to rural hospitals were cut. We need to restore some of those funds to help rural hospitals survive. Finally, state hospitals have been asking the legislature to increase the hospital tax so that they will receive additional funds for these hospitals.
Currently the Sierra Vista Hospital is run by a Joint Powers Agreement with T or C, Elephant Butte and Williamsburg (there may be another community included). This provides oversight for the hospital. In addition, with a change in the funding formula, this would help provide additional state oversight.