If the politics of 2009 taught us anything, it should be that the people with whom a candidate associates are important. On a national level, we have a tax cheat in charge of the treasury and Green Jobs Czar Van Jones was forced to resign over a bevy of radical revelations. A candidate's coattails give authority to a variety of non-elected officials whose decisions have direct impact on our lives—people we may not have elected if we had the choice. We typically vote on the candidate's charisma and qualifications without thinking about the impact of his or her "friends."
In New Mexico, in 2003 Governor Richardson appointed Joanna Prukop as the Secretary over the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. With a bachelor's and master's degree in wildlife biology and 26 years in the Department of Game and Fish, she was given the authority over New Mexico's oil, gas, and mining industry—our primary economic engine. As her detrimental policies have been implemented, the oil and gas industry has nearly stalled out. Many companies have pulled out and the locals are now drilling out of state—with one specifically telling me that it is easier for them to drill in California than here at home.
As New Mexico's budget is running on empty, despite the fact that it formerly had a surplus when other states were in trouble, our citizens are taking a closer look at the policies that got us into this predicament. The poking around points back to Prukop and her personal project "the Pit Rule." Recently, in the Albuquerque Journal, she tried to deflect the blame for the state's economic woes toward declining global oil and gas prices—which in fact deserves some blame. However, the fact that companies find California a friendlier environment for business cannot be due just to temporarily lower prices.
I don't blame her for wanting to defend herself. We all want to end life with a favorable legacy. No, her life is not over, but her life in New Mexico government is. With the end of 2009 came the end of her tenure in Richardson's cabinet. Those frightened by proposed cuts in services or afraid of cuts to school budgets plus everyone in New Mexico who wishes for our state to climb up from the ladder's bottom rung, may cheer with the thought of new leadership. Not!
The new Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources is again appointed by our Governor. The pick is no better, and may be worse. At least Prukop has a science background, albeit wildlife biology.
The new Secretary is Ron Goldstein. I hear he is a pleasant fellow and I don't intend to personally denigrate him, but he has no business being in charge of the state's extractive industries. He has no science or energy background. His education is in history. Prior to coming to New Mexico, he has been in journalism. Appropriately, there are many quotes from him in New Mexico's newspapers. Sadly, many of them are anti-energy—specifically anti-nuclear energy. (This, in a state that has an abundance of uranium, a uranium enrichment facility and a world-class nuclear waste site. We are only missing a nuclear power plant.)
Again, this is not to fault Goldstein. He has had a nice climb up the ranks of government employment—especially for someone so young. But the person in charge of our energy development should be someone who understands energy—or at least economics. Not a journalist with a degree in history! Before Goldstein can fully take charge, he must be nominated and confirmed by the senate in the upcoming legislative session. Contact the State Senators and tell them that you want someone in charge of the state's economic engine who understands energy, its role in the state’s budget, and its overall importance to the citizens New Mexico. Ask him that they vote against Goldstein’s confirmation.
Better yet, insist on a restructuring of the department—back to its pre 1987 state. Does it make sense to have the same person in charge of the parks and oil wells? We need someone in charge of energy who can focus on energy, not someone whose achievement after 7 years of service is "protecting critical wildlife habitats" and "conserving natural lands!" While the change is unlikely to take place in the waning days of the Richardson leadership, we can plant the idea and expect it from the new governor—whoever he or she may be.
Marita Noon is the executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE), a nonprofit organization that offers facts on America’s energy options so citizens are educated on the energy reality and can make decisions accordingly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.responsiblenergy.org.