For Immediate Release, May 10, 2023
Gail Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (505) 463-5293, email@example.com
New Mexico Sued Over Failure to Control Skyrocketing Oil, Gas Pollution
Landmark Lawsuit Targets State’s Constitutional Duty
SANTA FE, N.M.— A coalition of Indigenous peoples, youth, frontline community members and environmental groups sued New Mexico, the state legislature, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state agencies today for violating their state constitutional duty to control the rapidly growing pollution from the oil and gas industry.
The first-of-its-kind lawsuit seeks compliance with the pollution control clause of the New Mexico Constitution under Article 20, Section 21. No previous lawsuit has targeted the 1971 amendment, which mandates that the state prevent the despoilment of New Mexico’s air, water and other natural resources, and protect the state’s beautiful and healthful environment.
Oil production in New Mexico’s Permian Basin, one of the largest oilfields in the world, has increased nearly 10-fold since 2010, leading to a surge of devastating air, water and climate pollution.
Today’s lawsuit demands that the state comply with its constitutional duty to protect New Mexico’s environment, and that permitting of oil and gas wells be suspended in the meantime.
“New Mexico’s failure to control oil and gas pollution violates our constitution and fundamental human rights to clean air, land and water,” said Gail Evans, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute and lead counsel on the case. “If concern for our environment and public health won’t push New Mexico’s leaders to control the reckless oil and gas industry, we hope legal action will.”
Air quality in several of the state’s oil- and gas-producing counties fails to meet federal standards established to protect public health. Eddy and San Juan Counties received an “F” from the American Lung Association for high ozone days, and Lea and Sandoval Counties got a “D.”
Indigenous, youth and frontline communities are disproportionately harmed by the state’s failure to control oil and gas pollution. Plaintiffs in the case are additionally seeking relief under the constitution’s equal protection and fundamental rights clauses.
“New Mexico has allowed sacred Diné lands in the Eastern Navajo Agency to be completely ravaged by oil and gas extraction and pollution,” said Mario Atencio, a plaintiff in the case from Torreon/Starlake Chapter of the Navajo Nation. “There is zero accountability for the dangerous air pollution that my community breathes and the toxic spills that pollute our precious lands and waters.”
Oil and gas operators spill toxic liquid waste an average of four times per day in New Mexico, endangering land, air, water and public health.
Meanwhile, as the state faces increasing aridification from climate change, oil companies use vast quantities of New Mexico’s dwindling fresh water resources for fracking. In 2019 the industry used approximately 14 billion gallons of New Mexico's fresh water resources — equivalent to household use for more than 278,000 people.
“Extractive industry is desecrating our ancestral homelands and imposing irreparable harm to our water, plant and animal relatives,” said Julia Bernal, executive director of Pueblo Action Alliance. “It’s unacceptable that New Mexico is continuing the legacy of harm and pollution through our communities by its racist and inequitable policies.”
This constitutional lawsuit has far-reaching implications. As the second-largest oil-producing state in the country and one of the leading gas producers, New Mexico is responsible for over 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than the national average. Pollution from New Mexico’s oil and gas industry plays a colossal role in the climate crisis, threatening plaintiffs’ right to a livable future.
“I’m terrified to think of my generation’s climate future when I’ve already seen triple-digit heat records and the biggest wildfire in New Mexico’s history last summer,” said 21-year-old Zephyr Jaramillo with Youth United for Climate Crisis Action. “As one of the largest oilfields in the world, the Permian Basin threatens to pollute my future into oblivion. New Mexico needs to change course and rein in oil and gas pollution to give all of us a chance at a healthy future.”
The case was filed today in the First Judicial District Court of New Mexico by Indigenous Lifeways, Pueblo Action Alliance, Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and individuals living on the frontlines of oil and gas extraction.
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.
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit environmental conservation and advocacy organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Guardians works to replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy in order to safeguard public health, the environment, and the Earth’s climate for future generations.