Unlikely Coalition Opposes Bush’s Plan to Drill in New Mexico

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) is leading an improbable coalition of enviros, ranchers, hunters, and property-rights activists in a fight against the Bush administration’s plans to drill for natural gas in the Otero Mesa area of New Mexico, a vast and largely untouched expanse of desert grasslands that Richardson has called “the West’s ANWR.” A recent Department of Interior proposal would open 90 percent of the area to drilling. Richardson’s strong stance is a signal that Bush’s energy policy could become a hot election-year issue in the Rocky Mountain West, an area traditionally dependent on energy production but increasingly wary of aggressive oil and gas development. Not surprisingly, the companies that stand to benefit most directly from Otero Mesa drilling have close ties to top administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, and Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles. Richardson is frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2004; this uniting, not dividing, maneuver could strengthen his chances.