For Immediate Release, June 1, 2023
Samuel Sage, Navajo Nation, (505) 360-5865, firstname.lastname@example.org
New Mexico Creates School Health Buffer to Protect Against Oil, Gas Pollution
SANTA FE, N.M.— New Mexico Public Lands Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard announced an executive order today that bans new oil and gas leasing on state lands within one mile of schools and other educational facilities.
The order is the result of collaboration between the State Land Office and the Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens Caring for the Future and community members in Eastern Navajo Agency. The groups and residents detailed concerns about students’ exposure to oil and gas pollution in letters to the commissioner in March and April.
“It’s outrageous that kids at schools like Lybrook Elementary are exposed to toxic emissions from oil and gas every day,” said Samuel Sage, community services coordinator for the Navajo Nation Chapter of Counselor. “These are vital protections for communities like ours. We hope all state agencies get the message that they need to do more to protect kids and communities.”
The executive order also requires State Land Office staff to review all existing oil and gas mineral leases, business leases and rights-of-way to ensure they comply with state law. That includes requirements to plug inactive wells, remediate spills and adhere to relevant air quality standards.
“Let’s hope this order puts an end to kids paying for their education with their health,” said Kayley Shoup, a community organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future. “Kids growing up in the Permian Basin will all live with the consequences of climate change, but they shouldn’t also have their bodies harmed from the start by toxic oil and gas pollution. I’m hopeful that lawmakers and decisionmakers will all follow the State Land Office in putting children’s health first.”
More than 144,000 New Mexicans, including 28,000 children, live or attend school within a half mile of oil and gas production. New Mexico has not established any statewide setbacks between oil and gas facilities and homes, hospitals, schools and other community gathering sites.
“This order addresses the grim fact that the oil and gas industry provides funding to these schools while simultaneously poisoning the children who attend them,” said Gail Evans, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “This is a first step to protecting our kids from oil and gas pollution. But it’s only on state land. We need health and safety setbacks across New Mexico. Until we get protections in place across the state, children will still be poisoned in the places they live, study and play.”
Separately, the state of New Mexico is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by several frontline, Indigenous, youth and environmental organizations challenging the state’s failure to control oil and gas pollution. The State Land Office is not a defendant in the case.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.