See Powell’s response to this guest column by clicking here.
As New Mexicans head to the polls on Tuesday, I must set the record straight about former Commissioner of Public Lands Ray Powell, who is running for the office yet again.
The job of the commissioner of public lands is to manage state trust lands. It was granted by the U.S. Congress to the Territory of New Mexico as a means of generating revenue to establish and support a public schools system, which was essential to settling the West.
Today, revenue earned from energy production, ranching and farming, and business and community development on trust lands helps support 89 public school districts, seven universities, the New Mexico Military Institute, the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the New Mexico School for the Deaf, and a number of other state-supported institutions and programs.
The commissioner of public lands is integral to the fiscal solvency of New Mexico’s schools, which is precisely why now is not the time to elect Ray Powell.
Mr. Powell says he proudly stands by his record of public service. If this is the case, then New Mexicans shouldn’t vote for someone with such low standards.
Powell claims he knows how to generate more money for our schools. During my eight-year tenure I have more than doubled the amount of money his administration earned in 10 years. On my watch, more than $3 billion has been distributed to the schools we support.
Powell asserts that he knows how to protect our state lands. He says, “we must protect our public lands from pollution, from being sold, and from misuse and mismanagement.”
This is what “conservationist” Ray Powell did during his first tenure as land commissioner:
• He approved a sand and gravel mining operation in the Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
• He leased 80,000 acres for oil and gas development in Otero Mesa.
• He ignored illegal dumping across nine million acres of trust lands. In fact, the condition in which Powell left our lands was so deplorable that I launched the “Don’t Trash the Trust” campaign to eradicate illegal dumping on trust lands. Over the years, I appropriated more than $1 million to remove trash and hazardous materials, build fences to keep trespassers out, and restore trust lands in 18 counties.
• Powell also turned a blind eye to trespass, timber poaching, and cockfighting on trust lands in Torrance in Socorro counties. I busted this illegal operation and filed criminal charges against the guilty parties.
During my eight years in office, I have worked with the oil and gas industry to remediate contamination and prevent spills. I created an environmental program within the agency’s Field Operations Division and invested half a million dollars to remove and reclaim abandoned well pads.
I allocated $7 million toward rangeland, forest and watershed remediation, wildlife habitat improvement, illegal dump site cleanups, oil pad reclamation, and cultural resource stabilization.
Powell spent only $180,000 on land management projects.
As for his stance on renewable energy, when Powell left office in 2002, not a single wind turbine or solar panel existed on trust lands.
I established the State Land Office’s renewable energy program. There are now 94 active wind turbines on 6,800 acres of trust lands in four counties, which have a combined earning power of $55 million over the course of their respective leases.
Some 137,000 acres are optioned for wind energy power plant development, and 83,465 acres of trust lands have been encumbered for utility-scale solar power plants.
I integrated bio-mass into the State Land Office’s renewable energy portfolio. I have increased revenues earned from renewable energy projects 438 percent.
When I took office, I turned the vacant land I inherited from Powell into dynamic and competitive communities.
Trust lands in Rio Rancho are now the site of the city hall, Santa Ana Star Center, Hewlett-Packard, UNM-West, Central New Mexico Community College’s Rio Rancho campus, and Cleveland High School.
In Albuquerque, Schott Solar, Advent Solar, Molina Healthcare, Fidelity Investments, Albuquerque Studios, and the National Nuclear Security Administration together create a commercial and industrial zone at Mesa del Sol.
While we are on the subject of Mesa del Sol, Powell negotiated a sweetheart deal, giving the developer 87 percent of land sale proceeds. He gave New Mexico’s school children 13 percent. My hands were tied by his poor judgment and I was forced to honor that agreement.
He criticizes me for selling trust lands. The 1,845 acres of trust lands I sold (out of nine million) put $20 million in the bank for New Mexico’s kids. Land exchanges completed during my tenure have increased trust assets by nearly 84,000 acres. Seven of these land sales and exchanges resulted in six new state-of-the-art schools and Title IX soccer fields.
Powell touts his record of “holding individuals and global companies accountable” by collecting $70 million in unpaid oil and gas royalties. I collected $90 million.
He brags about fostering public-private partnerships; however, he shut down business and industry, he killed jobs, and litigation and negotiation were tantamount.
Powell accuses me of “poor leadership.” Ray Powell has no leadership. Ray Powell has no vision. Ray Powell should not be commissioner of public lands.
Lyons is the current commissioner of public lands and a Republican candidate for the District 2 seat on the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.