Budget Cuts, Staffing Vacancies Still Plague Energy, Environment and Public Lands Agencies in New Mexico

January 14, 2021

Today New Mexico Wild released an updated analysis of budget funding for energy, environment and public lands-related agencies in the State of New Mexico.

Overall, the analysis shows that the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC)’s recommendations, released on Jan. 12, 2021, would maintain double-digit, 15-30% cuts made during the previous 10 years, as well as high vacancy rates that persist at many of these agencies.

Click here for the executive summary and here for the full report.

“Once again, our report shows a disturbing reality – these agencies remain woefully underfunded and staffed,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “We recognize the historic budgetary challenges legislators are facing due to COVID-19 and the instability of the oil and gas industry, and we credit them for making positive gains in certain areas. But maintaining drastic cuts over decades is jeopardizing the state’s ability to meet our basic needs, and we call on legislators to take bolder action to adequately restore funding for these agencies, reduce our over-reliance on oil and gas, and put forth a more visionary plan to protect our environment and invest in our natural resources so that we can diversify and grow the economy in much better ways.”

“Traditionally, budgets are analyzed in one or two-year timeframes, but that doesn’t give a full picture of what’s been done to these agencies over the past ten years,” said Brittany Fallon, Policy Director. “We ask that when legislators consider this year’s budget, they take these calculations into heavy consideration.

“While there may be few differences between the LFC and governor’s budget recommendations overall, that is not the case for environment and public lands-related agencies. Legislators must do more to support the governor’s request for NMED, EMNRD and OCD to reverse the dangerous cuts and staffing levels that have taken place.

“Coming off a year when New Mexico children have overwhelmingly been stuck inside behind a screen, legislators should step up and support in the highest amounts possible the requests from the Office of Outdoor Recreation for the Outdoor Equity Fund and the Great New Mexico Trails Package,” Fallon added. “In addition to getting 38,000 New Mexico children outside, these requests would support shovel-ready outdoor recreation infrastructure projects, help create hundreds of jobs in urban and rural communities, boost small businesses tied to outdoor recreation and leverage millions in federal funding.”

Highlights of the new data are included below:

New Mexico Environment Department (NMED)

  • For the upcoming budget year FY2022, the LFC has recommended $13,146,200 for NMED’s general fund, leaving it completely unchanged from FY2021.
  • Funding at this level would maintain the -25% deficit from FY2011 and continue to jeopardize the agency’s ability to protect public health and the environment.
  • The governor’s request for NMED’s general fund would equal a +28.1% increase over the current FY2021 operating levels. If fully funded, this would represent a -4.47% decrease from FY2011 levels – reversing most of the drastic cuts that took place during the previous ten years.
  • NMED is still operating at a -17.8% staff vacancy rate, similar to the -18.8% vacancy rate the Lujan Grisham administration inherited in FY2020. The lack of staff severely limits the agency from protecting the state’s air, land and water qualities. According to department data, there are just 7 inspectors in charge of monitoring 7,700 air emitting sources, which breaks down to 1,100 sources per inspector.

New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD)

  • For the upcoming budget year FY2022, the LFC has recommended a budget of $22,818,900 for EMNRD’s general fund, which would maintain a -16.23% decrease from FY2011, when adjusted for inflation.
  • The governor’s request of $25,274,000 for EMNRD’s general fund would lower the difference to -7.22% compared to FY2011 levels, reversing most of the drastic cuts that took place during the past ten years. If fully funded, the governor’s recommendations would equal a +9.2% increase over the current FY2021 operating levels, while the LFC’s recommendation would cut the budget by -1.5% compared to the previous year.

Oil and Conservation Division (OCD)

  • For the upcoming budget year FY2022, the LFC has recommended a budget of $6,151,100 for OCD’s general fund, which would represent a +28.36% increase from FY2011 for OCD’s general fund budget, when adjusted for inflation.
    • The governor’s request for $6,648,400 for OCD’s general fund would represent a +38.73% increase compared to FY2011 levels, when adjusted for inflation, reversing the drastic cuts made during the past ten years.
    • If fully funded, the governor’s request for OCD’s general fund budget for FY2022 would be a +7.2% increase over the current FY2021 operating levels, while the LFC’s recommendation would cut the budget by -0.8% compared to the previous year.
  • About half of all inspector/compliance officer positions are still vacant at the division. It currently has 11 inspectors compared to previous levels of 20, and department staff recommends at least 40 inspectors, which would be on par with other top-producing states like North Dakota.
  • The LFC notes that although mandated by the legislature, an OCD program to plug abandoned wells may not be able to meet its related performance goal in FY2021 and FY2022 due to a lack of division funding.

State Parks Division

  • For the upcoming budget year FY2022, the LFC has recommended a budget of $8,485,700 for the State Parks Division general fund, almost identical to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s requested $8,485,600.
  • Both the LFC and the governor’s budget would equal an +1.8% increase for the State Parks Division general fund over the current FY2021 operating levels but maintain the -30% reduction from what it was over the past ten years in FY2011, when adjusting for inflation.
  • During the previous administration, 72 full-time employee positions were eliminated, leaving a vacancy rate of -24 %.
  • These factors, along with severe environmental conditions, have contributed to a massive decline of nearly one million visitors to New Mexico State Parks since 2016. New Mexicans flocked to state parks during the COVID-19 pandemic, only to find them understaffed with limited services.

The Office of Outdoor Recreation

  • This year, the Division also made two emergency “special appropriations” requests as a response to the public health crisis. Funding for these programs would help support several shovel-ready outdoor recreation infrastructure projects and could help create hundreds of jobs in urban and rural communities, all while boosting small businesses tied to outdoor recreation and getting New Mexico youth outside.
    • The first is $1.025 million for the Outdoor Equity Fund, which would help an estimated 38,000 children of color experience the outdoors, following a year when children have overwhelmingly been stuck inside on screens. The governor funds this request at $1 million, while LFC does not recommend any additional funding for this program.
    • The second is a request for $3.22 million to support the Great New Mexico Trails Package to leverage federal Land and Water Conservation Fund match dollars. The governor recommends $250,000 for this program, while the LFC recommends a $500,000 special appropriation.
    • New Mexico Wild and a coalition of organizations called on legislators to fund these programs in a December 17, 2020 letter.

State Land Office

  • The State Land Office inherited a -22% vacancy rate from the previous administration, which was brought down to -9.14% under the leadership of Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, with support from the legislature and the Lujan Grisham administration.
  • In the first 18 months of the new administration, the State Land Office established its first ever Office of Renewable Energy and has signed a record eight new wind leases totaling $80 million in lifetime project earnings.
  • It also expanded the agency’s outdoor recreation program, issuing 484 Recreational Access Permits, which, according to the Office, is an increase of 200% over the previous average.The analysis compares general fund appropriations from FY2011 to FY2021, which include cuts made to the FY2021 budget year during the first special session in June 2020. The agencies included in the analysis are the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), including its Oil and Gas Conservation Division (OCD) and State Parks Division, and the Office of Outdoor Recreation. Staffing levels for the State Land Office, which does not receive general fund appropriations, were also included.

Similar cuts and vacancies were detailed in New Mexico Wild’s first report, released in 2020.

Sources for the report come from publicly available data from the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, General Appropriations Act (GAA) documents, agency sources and the New Mexico Sunshine Portal.

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