Yvette Herrell rose quickly through the ranks of the Republican Party in Congress since she was elected in 2020 to represent New Mexico’s oil rich Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is hoping to translate two years of defending fossil fuels into reelection in November.
Herrell’s district encompasses large swaths of southern New Mexico containing the oilfields of the Permian Basin – the U.S.’ busiest fossil fuel region.
Subsequently, the native of Alamogordo’s time in Congress was largely defined by her support of oil and gas, and her efforts to push to reduce what the congresswoman characterized as “red tape” and regulatory obstacles for American energy development.
As one of her first acts in office, and under the administration of President Joe Biden, Herrell joined a legislative effort to oppose Biden placed on new oil and gas leases of federal public land, and another to exempt New Mexico from any future similar restrictions.
Neither bill had advanced through Congress since being introduced, records show.
Stymying fossil fuel production through federal regulations would place America’s reliance on foreign sources with less environmental regulations, Herrell said.
“I think we need to educate people on energy in terms of how important the fossil fuel sector is,” Herrell said in a recent interview with the Carlsbad Current-Argus.
“Every energy has its place, but I think we need to be cognizant that our energy demands aren’t going to decrease, they’re going to keep going up. Thank God we live in a nation that produces oil and gas cheaper and cleaner than anywhere else in the world.”
She’s up for re-election in November, running against Democrat Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez who like many in his party was critical of the environmental impact of fossil fuels and supportive of policy to reduce climate change and support alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.
“We have a basic responsibility to leave a better world for our kids, but unchecked pollution from dirty and outdated energy sources is putting the health and future of our children at risk,” read a statement from Vasquez’s campaign.
Recent polling numbers from Global Strategy Group showed Vasquez’s approach may be winning over New Mexicans, giving him a slim, 1 point advantage over the incumbent Herrell, 45 percent to 44 percent.
She said she planned to debate Vasquez in the lead-up to the election, and Herrell was steadfast in her support of New Mexico’s leading industry which makes up more than a third of its budget, and the region that produces 40 percent of U.S. crude oil.
She was recently chosen by GOP leadership, which holds a minority in Congress, as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Environment in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Upon taking the post, Herrell denied the role of climate change in New Mexico’s recent record-breaking wildfires raging in the northern and southwestern parts of the state, calling for more forest management but at the same time arguing such considerations should be stripped from industrial permitting process, limiting the role of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
She pointed to the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon Fire – New Mexico’s largest ever – that burned more than 300,000 acres this spring, blamed on a prescribed burn started by the National Forest Service that got out of control, an incident some experts tied to increased aridification in the area cause by pollution and subsequent climate change.
“I can’t see the connection there with fossil fuels,” Herrell said of the wildfires. “We can all go back and look at trends with the weather. People want clean air and clean water. I think the missing piece is having these honest conversations. I mean, look at the investments these companies are making.”
Oil and gas companies in the Permian largely committed to reducing emissions in recent years, Herrell said, and thus their environmental impacts.
She said the industry could be a leader in addressing climate change and should be supported by public policy.
“At the end of the day, I think we all take for granted the fossil fuel industry. If we’re getting into climate, wouldn’t it be smarter to rely on American companies? We know our energy is cleaner and better for the environment,” Herrell said.
Despite her defense of the oil and gas industry as an economic driver essential to national security via “American energy independence,” Herrell was hesitant to support southeast New Mexico’s growing nuclear industry which local leaders asserted would help diversity the oil-dependent region.
She said a proposal from Holtec International to build a temporary facility for spent nuclear fuel had “more questions than answers.” A recently finalized environmental impact statement published by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission saw minimal impact and recommended a license be issued.
Last year, the NRC did issue a license to another company Interim Storage Partners to build a smaller, but similar facility just over the state line in Andrews, Texas, and both projects were widely opposed by state leaders of both states – Republican and Democrat – who worried it could imperil nearby oil and gas and agriculture industries.
“I think we need to be very mindful about what we’re getting into,” Herrell said. “It’s not exactly something that we’re very versed in. I don’t think it’s necessarily something everybody wants.
“There’s a lot of opposition.”
Holtec company officials and city leaders in Carlsbad and Hobbs were united in their contention that the NRC’s report was definitive that the project could be done safely, and that it was needed to support continued growth in the region.
“The NRC’s final environmental impact statement confirms that the HI-STORE CISF will have no negative impact on our community,” said Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway in a statement following the report.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.