Letter Writer Fills in Gaps Left by Oil and Gas Promoter

November 19th, 2013 · No Comments · energy policy, journalism, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Let wind energy tax breaks expire” was the headline on a column that ran on the Albuquerque Journal Op-Ed page Nov. 6, written by the New Mexico director of Americans for Prosperity.

An astute reader in Las Cruces challenged the article, and did so by writing a letter to the editor. In it, he refrained from saying the column was wrong – in fact he very politely said the column “made a case rightly or wrongly” for ending wind energy tax breaks – but he correctly made the case that the column certainly was “missing something”.

The letter writer even refrained from challenging the “agenda” of the column writer, which he justifiably could have done, because Joe Montes, director of the New Mexico’s Americans for Prosperity (AFP), no doubt deliberately left out what was missing because of that agenda, which is the promotion of extractive industries like oil and gas.

In his letter that was published Nov. 12, letter writer Jerry Nachison of Las Cruces laid out just what was missing from Montes’ column, and because he did it so well, I’d like to lift directly from his letter:

The key to AFP’s argument is (this) paragraph: “Given the federal government’s spending problems, it simply does not make sense to give handouts to special interests.” …Let’s stick to “special interest handouts” in the energy sector. AFP says “…the wind production credit would cost… $12 billion in 2014 alone.”

Yes, wind power is still a new industry. But what about “special interest” subsidies to large for-profit industries that don’t need a cent?. . .

With just a quick search I came up with the following breaks/subsidies, and I do not pretend these are all-inclusive:. . .

  • Up to $41 billion annually in oil and gas subsidies/breaks…
  • $9 billion annually for coal….
  • $9 billion annually in nuclear power, . . .
  • $6 billion annually in U.S, ethanol. . .

If we just take oil, gas and coal, we see subsidies/breaks to profitable industries of some $50 billion annually – to companies that don’t need a penny of these dollars to further fatten profits.

I offer to (the) 21,000 supporters of Americans for Prosperity, if you don’t like subsidies for industries that aren’t self supporting you should go after the nuclear and ethanol industries in the U.S. also.

Nachison ends with:

Finally, the real point. Wouldn’t American taxpayers be better off without subsidies/breaks for the oil, gas and coal industries? Yes.

As we’ve often pointed out here at ABQJournalWatch, the Albuquerque Journal consistently runs columns and letters that contain half truths or even misinformation and relies on letter and column writers to “correct” and flesh out what’s printed on its pages. Nachison served as the “balance” and fill-in-the-gaps writer in this instance.

Another reader commented directly at the end of Montes’ column as posted on the Journal’s web site, providing a link to a description of Americans for Prosperity that reveals its ties to oil and gas industries.

In contrast, the Journal’s editors did not ascribe any description to Montes or Americans for Prosperity, at the beginning or end of the column, either in the print edition or online. That leaves it up to readers to research the group’s background and slant. Here’s what Montes provided by way of description of his group, which was the last line of the column, and something of a veiled threat:

Over 21,000 Americans for Prosperity activists live in New Mexico, and our members of Congress should know that we’re watching their actions on this issue. Extending special tax treatment to their special interests in the wind energy industry is not why we elected them.

Mora County Fracking Ban Challenged

Speaking of the oil and gas industry, Mora County has been sued over its ban on fracking. The Albuquerque Journal ran a small, six-paragraph brief Nov. 14 about the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, saying it was filed by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico and landowners, who claim the ban is unconstitutional and violates state laws. The Journal story had this quote:

“These resources belong to the people of New Mexico, not to the commissioners of Mora County,” Richard Gilliland, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, said Wednesday.

The Santa Fe New Mexican, on the other hand, ran a full story two days earlier than the Journal, and it reported:

“What the Mora County Commission has done with this ordinance is an insult to the U.S. Constitution and every free citizen,” said Richard Gilliland, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, in a news release Tuesday. . . .

Mora County Commissioner John Olivas said Tuesday he had not seen the suit, so he declined to discuss the legal action itself. However, he defended the commission’s vote.

“I was in a position to protect our resources in Mora County,” he said. “We’re ready for this fight.”

The New Mexican article, by Steve Terrell, names the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit:

Mary L. Vermillion, who, according to the suit, owns less than an acre of land and its mineral rights in Mora County, and the JAY Land Ltd. Co. and Yates Ranch Property, which together own 125,000 acres known as Ojo Feliz Ranch.

“But for the ordinance, JAY and Yates would seek to lease their oil and gas estate to a corporation for the purposes of exploring for and extracting oil and natural gas, or otherwise seek to extract these minerals themselves,” the suit says.

Vermillion “would seek to lease her oil and gas estate to a corporation for the purposes of exploring for and extracting the oil and natural gas” but can’t because of the drilling ban. The Independent Petroleum Association has at least one member who holds valid oil and gas leases in Mora County and would like to drill there, according to the lawsuit.

Terrell also included this line from the lawsuit:

“If defendants’ true goal was to protect surface and groundwater supplies within the county, the ordinance would address other industries that are known sources of water pollution, such as the agricultural industry,” the lawsuit argues.

The story also provides some history:

Mora was the first county in the United States to impose an outright ban on all drilling. Shortly before that vote, the San Miguel County Commission rejected a similar drilling ban.

However, that county is considering an ordinance that would attempt to greatly restrict the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” That’s a controversial process that uses high-pressure fluids through well-bore holes to force fractures in shale and other rock formations. It allows oil and gas trapped in the rock to flow out.

In 2008, Santa Fe County, in response to a Texas company’s plan to drill in the Galisteo Basin, adopted a law that doesn’t actually outlaw drilling, but places enough restrictions that those in the oil industry have said it amounts to a ban.

Meanwhile, Mora County residents might enjoy moral support from an unlikely source, Pope Francis.  According to Foreign Policy magazine, the pope recently spoke with Argentine environmentalists and activists about fracking and water contamination and “reportedly told them he is preparing an encyclical – a letter addressing a part of Catholic doctrine — about nature, humans, and environmental pollution.”

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