Thursday, December 13, 2007

Drilling Threat Gives us Wonderful Opportunity

This past Sunday, the New Mexican published an Op-Ed I wrote about the threat of oil and gas exploration arriving in Santa Fe County. In short, I think the threat gives the County government the opportunity to restore the balance of power between the people, the special interests and the corporations in favor of the people.

By passing strong legislation restricting oil and gas operations in the County, the County Commission can show the rest of the United States that it is possible to stand firm and defend the interests of the regular folks the commissioners represent.

The text of the Op-Ed is below, and the link is here: Op-Ed

My View: Drilling Issue Presents Civic Opportunity

To paraphrase Mark Twain: Nothing focuses one's attention quite so much as the prospect that your community and your way of life may be radically disrupted by forces and events that seem beyond your control.

The arrival in Santa Fe County of oil and gas wildcatters has brought such focus to our community, and this attention and energy give us an incredible opportunity. We have the chance to restore the will of the people to its proper place in the debate and to shift the balance of power in favor of our community.

For too long, political debate has ignored the will of the people in favor of the will of special interests. Special interests have sought to take without contributing their fair share and inevitably leave ordinary people and communities shouldering the burden of their activities. Oil and gas exploration in Santa Fe County is a perfect example: Our community will shoulder an enormous burden should exploration and production commence but will reap few, if any, benefits.

The activities of the wildcatters (who arrive first) and the major corporations (who inevitably come later) pose serious threats to our water, our land, and ur air. In return, they offer nothing but empty promises. The revenues generated will be a pittance compared to the economic and social consequences to Santa Fe, and the impact of their operations could last for many generations after they leave.

Our county government has a golden opportunity to show the rest of the country what government can do when it acts in the best interests of the people. Our county can enact a tough ordinance to ensure that we preserve the things that make Santa Fe such a special place to live and raise a family.

By doing that, we will tell industry that it must, for once, bear the true costs of its activities.

Some may fear that industry will bring lawsuits to tear down tough ordinances or to remove safety laws. We should not shirk from the fight and should not be intimidated by such threats. The ground on which the county government stands in defending safety and health ordinances is the strongest ground on which it can ever stand. Attempts to use the courts to defeat protective ordinances may succeed, or they may fail. But we will surely win no matter the outcome because we can never lose when standing to defend ourselves. Compared to the costs of the effects of lightly regulated oils and gas exploration and production, the costs of defending the lawsuits that may come will be insignificant. It is far better to face and defend a lawsuit than to face the destruction of our homes, land and water at the hands of those who do not care about the effects they create, or for the future they leave behind.

I urge the county government to recognize the importance of the days ahead and to seize this important opportunity to stand up for those they represent. In passing an ordinance that contains stronger bonding requirements, stronger set-back requirements, and stronger aquifer protections, our county government will be restoring the balance to the debate and will long be remembered for their courage and foresight.

Brian Egolf is a Santa Fe water lawyer and a candidate for the State House, District 47.