NM Business Leaders Tell Balderas To Beat It With Tough Guy Rhetoric
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ promises to bring a “street fight” mentality and an emphasis on “environmental justice” to bolster his environmental credentials is now being underwritten by one of the biggest environmental philanthropists and political donors—Michael Bloomberg.
The environmental tough guy act from New Mexico chief legal officer isn’t without some merit–Balderas has received backup from New York University School of Law’s new State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. The center provides law fellows to state attorney general offices courtesy of a $6 million grant in August 2017 from Bloomberg Philanthropies, named for billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
That relationship is drawing fire from New Mexico’s business community.
“Attorney General Balderas is talking tough with his ‘street fight’ rhetoric in regards to environmental issues, but that’s not what New Mexico needs,” Carla J. Sonntag, President and Founder of the New Mexico Business Coalition told Western Wire.
Sonntag frowned on the environmental crusader rhetoric.
“Our crime rate is among the highest in the nation and while it may excite his progressive base, that kind of talk only exacerbates the problem,” Sonntag said. “Balderas should focus on correcting our out of control crime rate, not creating more issues for the extractive industries that help fund our state budget.”
New Mexico’s share of oil and gas production taxes and royalties jumped $107 million in the last fiscal year, with the state’s general fund receiving $1.74 billion. Half of that amount is dedicated to New Mexico’s educational system.
And thanks to oil and gas development in the Permian Basin, New Mexico is now the nation’s third highest crude oil producer, and the ninth highest producer of natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration.
“If fighting for justice and getting in a street fight has led me into some environmental fights, then I guess you can call me an environmentalist, but that wasn’t my motivation,” he said. “My motivation was to primarily get into a street fight using power on behalf of the public interest,” Balderas told E&E News.
“Clearly, the Attorney General is fighting for Mike Bloomberg and other out of state politicians, not the hard-working New Mexicans whose jobs and livelihoods are at risk as a result of his actions,” Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, told Western Wire.
In October, New Mexico’s attorney general office was among the first seven to receive NYU Law fellows, alongside Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, and Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Virginia were added in December.
The fellows will act as “special assistant attorneys general” to “fight against regulatory rollbacks” according to the NYU State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.
“Each of the attorney general offices chosen to participate in the initial phase of the fellowship program has demonstrated a commitment to advancing progressive policies on clean energy, the environment and climate change,” David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, said in a statement in October 2017. “State attorneys general play a unique role in defending the citizens of their states from environmentally destructive actions and in advocating for the interests of their constituents. NYU Law fellows will allow them to play an even greater role protecting their states.”
Hayes praised the actions of participating attorneys general, noting that the states’ top legal officers have “filed an average of two lawsuits a month and taken more than 60 actions since January on these issues alone.” He also said the funding would support enforcement action at the state level in addition to litigation.
Hayes previously served as an Interior Department deputy secretary under Obama and Clinton administrations.
As for New Mexico, Hayes told E&E News, “They’re fighting above their weight class.”
Balderas also took a shot at his counterparts in neighboring states and said New Mexico makes a good Western state partner for litigation.
“I think they enjoy adding me to their litigation,” Balderas said, “because I think there’s not going to be an attorney general from Wyoming or Colorado or Texas that’s going to have a better understanding of lands as I do.”
Wyoming’s Attorney General Peter K. Michael, Colorado’s Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton are all Republicans.
Hayes called Balderas a “prominent Hispanic leader” who brings a “fighter mentality” to the role.
Balderas hasn’t engaged in environmental wrangling by himself during his first term. Since the Trump administration took office, Balderas has joined his fellow Democratic state attorneys general from across the country, alongside New York’s Eric Schneiderman and California’s Xavier Becerra.
As Western Wire reported in December, Balderas has teamed up with Becerra on a couple lawsuits. In late 2017, they sued the Bureau of Land Management over the agency’s methane rule.
“It’s disappointing that the Attorney General continues to take marching orders from California politicians and out of state activist groups over the hard-working New Mexicans he claims to represent,” NMOGA’s McEntyre told Western Wire at the time.
Balderas has distinguished himself as the only attorney general representing a Mountain West state to have joined the ozone lawsuit, working with a coalition of 15 Democratic attorneys general that included New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Delaware, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, California, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa.
University of New Mexico’s Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor, said that despite the state’s political lean toward Democrats, the state’s dependency on oil and gas revenue could force Balderas to do a “balancing act.”
“New Mexico’s economy is very sensitive to oil and gas revenue. So all of a sudden, our state budget looks a lot brighter, only because oil and gas is up in the southern area of the state,” Sanchez told E&E News. “For Hector, it’s a fine balancing act where, in the time of real economic desperation in New Mexico, being too liberal or progressive on environmental issues poses major problems.”