One week before the June 5 primary election, District 40 candidate Joseph Sanchez accepted $2,000 in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry. He is the only candidate in his district to accept money from an oil and gas company or political action committee.
According to his campaign finance report, filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office on May 30, he received $500 from Enbridge U.S. Inc., an oil and gas and natural gas transmission and distribution political action committee and $1,500 from Chevron.
Sanchez also received $200 from Santa Fe-based company EnergyAdvocate LLC.
The company does not have a website and owner Deborah Seligman did not return phone calls, by presstime, inquiring about her company and why she donated to Sanchez’s campaign. According to her LinkedIn profile, she is the former vice president of governmental affairs for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
Sanchez is the former Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative general manager.
During a June 1 telephone interview, he said although he pushed for renewable energy production during his time at the Co-op, the reality is the state relies on the money generated by the oil and gas industry to fund the budget and schools.
“I’m really interested in pushing renewables, but right now, that is what is funding our budget,” he said.
The industry is especially important to public schools, colleges and universities, he said. Every year, the New Mexico State Land Office auctions oil and gas leases to companies and generates millions of dollars in revenue, which is used to fund education.
If elected, he said he will work to bring renewable energy to Northern New Mexico, but it might not happen as fast as some people want it to happen.
“From my experience of leading an electric utility, it is not something that can be done overnight,” he said. “We do not want to do something that will negatively impact the ratepayers, but we also want to help the environment.”
If he wins, Sanchez said he will work with the oil, gas and renewable energy industries to try and improve his district.
“I don’t know if friendly is the right word, but I am going to work with them like I would with everyone,” he said.
Although he accepted the money, Sanchez said he is an advocate for renewable energy and anyone paying attention to his record, and not just his campaign finance reports, knows it.
Before he left the Co-op, he created a plan to build a 50-acre, 7.5 megawatt solar array in the Black Mesa area with SoCore Energy LLC, a Chicago-based renewable energy company.
This would have maxed out the Co-op’s 5 percent limit on Co-op generated renewable energy allowed by its contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission.
After his resignation, the Co-op’s Board of Trustees canceled the project and is planning to partner with local government entities, such as Rio Arriba County and school districts, to purchase power from their independently built and maintained solar arrays.
“What I would say is, it costs money to run an election campaign and my track record has shown, obviously, I am pro renewable energy, but right now we have to work with what we have,” he said. “I am going to be a strong advocate to get to renewables as soon as possible. As soon as realistically possible.”
Sanchez’s opponents, County Commissioner Barney Trujillo and New Mexico Acequia Association President Paula Garcia did not accept money from the oil and gas industry. Neither did District 41 candidate Susan Herrera.
Incumbent Debbie Rodella accepted a $1,500 donation from Chevron on the same day as Sanchez. Americans for Prosperity’s New Mexico political action committee, which supports oil and gas industry candidates, paid for a mailer attacking Herrera in the last week of the campaign.