New Mexico Wild: Gov. Should Reconsider Appointment of DC-Based Oil & Gas Lobbyist to State Game Commission

New Commissioner Should Recuse Herself from Decisions Affecting Oil and Gas Industry & Wildlife Management

SANTA FE, N.M. (March 1, 2022) – Today Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild, released the following statement about Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s appointment of Deanna Archuleta, an ExxonMobil lobbyist, to the New Mexico Game Commission.

“New Mexico Wild objects to this appointment and urges the governor to reconsider this decision due to Ms. Archuleta’s current employment with one of the world’s most notorious polluters. Until that time, we ask that Commissioner Archuleta recuse herself from any debate or decisions that have any bearing on oil and gas industry activities as they relate to wildlife management,” said Allison. “Although Archuleta does have past conservation experience, her current position raises questions about how she will operate as a member of the Game Commission. We urge the governor to make future appointments based on a demonstrated interest and knowledge of wildlife management. The public should not have any reason to wonder if commission decisions are being made in the best interest of wildlife management, or oil and gas profits.”

The impact of ExxonMobil operations is catastrophic, both globally and in New Mexico. Just last week, ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Permian Operating was fined $2.2 million by the state for improperly disposing of oil and gas wastewater on public land, thus putting “human health and the environment at risk of seismic events,” according to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department. The Permian Basin is critical habitat for species including the Lesser Prairie Chicken, and further damage, in addition to the severe connectivity loss due to industry operations, reduces the viability of nearly irreparably damaged habitat.

The conflict of interest between Archuleta’s current employer and her role on the game commission could cause the public to lose faith in the process of the Game Commission, something that has historically been an issue.

“Having an industry lobbyist overseeing approval of official positions and planning documents could risk downplaying the impact of oil & gas operations on wildlife. At the very least, this appointment will lessen public confidence in the Commission’s decisions and actions. Under previous administrations, the Game Commission approved removal of 245 species from the state wildlife action plan due to oil & gas influence. The Game Commission sets funding and management priorities for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, which has direct oversight responsibilities of the impact of oil & gas development on wildlife. Now, the very industry driving the worsening climate and mass extinction crises has a seat at that table, which consists of just seven commissioners. We know New Mexico can offer qualified candidates without the obvious conflict of interest that this appointment represents.”

The Department of Game and Fish duties include protection and recovery of state and federally listed threatened and endangered species put at risk due to oil and gas development. The Department currently has not taken a strong stance on the proposal to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as endangered in the Permian Basin, a listing decision that would impact oil and gas operations by requiring setbacks from wells, pipelines, and transmission lines. The proposed guidelines would impact over 800,000 acres held by XTO in the Permian Basin, including 1,507 wells.

“Wildlife is held in the public trust and the public should have the confidence that the commission that oversees wildlife management is making decisions in the best interest of wildlife management, using the best available science, and is free from real or apparent conflicts of interest. New Mexico Wild believes this appointment is particularly inappropriate as the vacancy for this seat was created by the untimely death of commissioner David Soules, an expert in wildlife, habitat, and land conservation; someone who had dedicated his life to the protections of New Mexico’s lands, waters, and wildlife; and a long-time member of the board of directors of New Mexico Wild,” said Allison.

According to state statute cited by the Governor’s own press release in 2019: 

  • “…five of the members shall represent different geographical areas of the state, and two other members shall be appointed at-large. At least one member of the commission shall manage and operate a farm or ranch that contains at least two species of wildlife, and at least one member shall have a demonstrated history of involvement in wildlife and habitat protection issues and whose activities or occupation are not in conflict with wildlife and habitat advocacy. No more than four may be members of the same political party.

Additional Background: 

  • Another role of the Game Commission is setting Department funding priorities for habitat protection and restoration. This includes land owned or controlled by the Commission, where the stated policy is to “prohibit uses that are incompatible with providing quality habitat for wildlife.” The state Surface Owner Protection Act requires oil companies to compensate for damage caused by drilling activities, as well as for surface reclamation. The Commission must ensure department resources are not spent on spills, discharges, toxic contamination, and other negative impacts for which industry bears responsibility.

Previously, the Department of Game and Fish took a stance to protect both the Valle Vidal and Otero Mesa from oil and gas drilling. The Bureau of Land Management Las Cruces District Office is currently revising the Tri-County Resource Management Plan, which will directly impact the future of Otero Mesa. The process is in its infancy but will eventually require robust public engagement including input from the Department of Game and Fish.