The University of New Mexico Faculty Senate passed a pair of resolutions this week demanding the school’s Board of Regents divest from the state’s primary sources of funding: fossil fuels.
“Sometimes there’s a propensity to dismiss these types of resolutions as mere activism or political posturing,” Faculty Senate President Finnie Coleman said in the Albuquerque Journal Saturday. “Across the nation, there have been successful efforts at divestment, but there has to be a stomach for it.”
Divestment would put the university in company with several Ivy League schools and the University of California’s school system which also sold off their shares of oil and gas within the last 10 years. What makes the University of New Mexico’s decision stand out among the rest is the state’s continued reliance on oil and gas revenues primarily from the Permian Basin in the southeast, the world’s richest reserves shared with Texas.
The latest report from industry leaders shows revenues from oil and gas pumped $2.8 billion into the state’s coffers, making up a third of its entire budget. Much of that funding goes directly to New Mexico schools, where more than $1 billion went to K-12 classrooms and nearly $300 million went to institutes of higher education in the fiscal year of 2020, more than a third of which went to the University of New Mexico.
The school raked in more than $100 million from oil and gas revenues collected by the state for its six campuses.
“Unless each of these professors is willing to take a 30 percent cut to their paycheck, then this is nothing more than pathetic posturing,” said Larry Behrens, the western states director of Power the Future, an energy non-profit. “Perhaps these academics might want to research the phrase ‘thank you’ for New Mexico’s energy workers who are footing the bill.”
The school’s foundation website shows its Consolidated Investment Fund portfolio features several equity firms embedded with the industry, a release of which dismisses the state’s lucrative oil and gas production in the southeast as vital to its economic survival, and highlights the disconnect between New Mexico’s large, central metropolitan areas and its rural output.
Meanwhile, producers in southeast New Mexico are facing headwinds from progressive lawmakers in Santa Fe and federal regulators from Washington. Among his first actions in office, President Joe Biden signed a 60-day moratorium on new oil and gas leases on public federal lands, triggering a review process to lock up future drilling in a Department of Interior now run by a radical environmental activist who hails from the state.
The threatened suspension of new leasing indefinitely, where the Interior-run Bureau of Land Management (BLM) already announced last month it would not hold oil and gas lease sales in the second quarter of 2021 for the state while it conducts its review, has already sent operators searching for new sites of production. A third of New Mexican land is owned by the federal government, whereas Texas just across the border, enjoys greater independence with just 2 percent owned by Washington.
Producers require long-term planning and assurance their operations will remain in place before they pledge billions in new capital to drill into particular regions. That means new leases must always be on the horizon, making Texas, if not somewhere offshore, an attractive choice as environmental progressives escalate government hostility towards fossil fuels threatening to forfeit American energy independence in the process.