News that New Mexico Environment Secretary, Ryan Flynn has left his political appointment to potentially head an oil and gas interest group reads like a “What Not to Do” chapter out of an ethical handbook. (Update — Flynn was awarded the job as NMOGA Executive Director late on Friday, September 2nd.)
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) executive director gig is cushy, too. As NMOGA’s director, Flynn’s annual salary would about double to $250k and in the past, the position has even come with a leased Mercedes-Benz.
During Flynn’s tenure as chief environmental steward for New Mexico, he amassed a reputation for gutting environmental protections and allowing his industry buddies to circumvent regulations.
Almost immediately after his appointment, Flynn negotiated to allow a polluter with a terrible track record, Helena Chemical, to continue their operations without requiring an air quality permit. Helena’s general manager and his wife are considered “Silver Sponsors” of Susana Martinez’s election campaign, having donated over $25K.
Earlier this year, Flynn drafted changes to the state’s civil penalty policy for air quality violators, allowing polluters to choose how to spend the money they’re fined. Previously, the state made these decisions, typically compensating those communities affected by the violations. Under Flynn’s new directive, such communities may not see any compensation, if the violating company so chooses.
In addition, Flynn’s ‘Copper Rule’ attempted to gut the state’s groundwater protections. Ignoring the proposal drafted through an 8-month stakeholder process, Flynn allowed the world’s largest publicly traded copper company, Freeport McMoRan Inc (FMI), to rewrite the rule to better benefit industry. In 2010, FMI paid the State $13M for groundwater contamination violations. The Copper Rule essentially gives mining companies the freedom to place pollution-monitoring wells outside the sphere of pollution, allowing groundwater contamination to occur undetected. Local community voices opposed the rule 10-1. Flynn’s former employer, Modrall Sperling, represented FMI on environmental violation cases for years.
This revolving-door is nothing new, as current NMOGA director, Steve Henke is a former Bureau of Land Management (BLM) official. Henke was the subject of a Department of Interior ethics probe and a published report outlines his slew of ethical transgressions. Furthermore, a Government Accountability Office report found Henke oversaw one of the worst-run BLM field offices in the nation, which routinely approved oil and gas projects without fully assessing their environmental impact.
Meanwhile, while the revolving door spins, the Four Corners region has become home to a methane plume the size of Delaware, the San Juan Basin now emits the most methane per well in the entire US, and New Mexico surpassed the rest of the country in methane waste on public lands at about $100 million each year. But NMOGA has strenuously opposed sensible efforts to clean up this methane problem – solutions that would also pump millions of additional dollars into the New Mexico budget each year.
If he is appointed as NMOGA’s new head, here’s hoping Flynn takes a careful look at the methane issue and considers a more balanced and proactive position. But if past is prologue, that unfortunately for New Mexico taxpayers looks doubtful.