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Court Allows New Mexico Oil Pollution Lawsuit to Move Ahead

A district court in New Mexico has allowed a lawsuit to proceed against the state’s governor, legislature, and agencies for failing to uphold their state constitutional duty to protect against pollution from oil and gas drilling.

The lawsuit, Atencio v. State, was filed by indigenous and environmental groups in 2023, claiming that the state of New Mexico and other state defendants violated the plaintiffs’ rights under the New Mexico Constitution by continuing to authorize and promote oil and gas production without assuring protection of the environment.

The state and the oil industry submitted a motion to dismiss, but Judge Matthew Wilson denied such a motion on Monday, paving the way for the lawsuit to proceed.  

The judge motivated the decision with the need for a more detailed review of the state’s responsibilities under the New Mexico constitution while granting the motion to dismiss would discard a more thorough review. 

The state’s administration is still reviewing the decision of Judge Wilson, a spokesperson for New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham told AP late on Monday.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge the state for violating the pollution control clause of the New Mexico Constitution. Article 20, Section 21 requires the state to prevent the despoilment of air, water, and other natural resources and protect New Mexico’s beautiful and healthful environment. Plaintiffs are also challenging the state for violating the constitution’s equal protection and fundamental rights clauses.

The plaintiffs say that oil production in New Mexico’s Permian Basin has jumped nearly tenfold since 2010, leading to a surge of devastating air, water and climate pollution.

The Permian shale boom has made New Mexico the second-largest U.S.-producing state, second only to Texas.

“The court soundly rejected the state and oil industry’s attempts to prevent the plaintiffs from having their day in court, allowing us to continue to fight for our constitutional rights to a clean environment,” said Gail Evans, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead counsel for the plaintiffs.  

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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