Tom Udall

Tom Udall.

New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall is battling for a vacant Senate seat in a race that enviros are watching closely this year — just like his cousin in Colorado.

Republican New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici is retiring this year, and Udall is facing Republican Rep. Steve Pearce in a contest to fill the vacancy. Enviros are happy to see Domenici go — the six-term senator has just a 14 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. He was a key supporter of the oil-friendly 2005 Energy Policy Act and has long been a big backer of nuclear energy, even penning the 2004 book A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energy.

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Pearce is not beloved of enviros either. LCV named him to its “Dirty Dozen” list this year, after the three-term representative pulled down a 6 percent score for the 110th Congress. He maintains a 3 percent lifetime score from the group.

Udall, in contrast, scored a 97 percent for his votes in the House this Congress and maintains a 96 percent lifetime score. LCV, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund all endorsed Udall early in his campaign. “Tom Udall has fought to defend America’s wild spaces and led the first successful effort to pass meaningful renewable electricity standards in the House in 2007,” wrote the groups in their endorsement.

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Udall cosponsored a measure to create a national renewable electricity standard, which passed in the House in 2007 but stalled in the Senate. He is the cofounder of the House International Conservation Caucus, and has been active on domestic public-lands and conservation issues. He co-founded the Peak Oil Caucus, which works on measures to reduce oil consumption and develop renewable alternatives, and introduced the Keep America Competitive Global Warming Act in 2006, which included a cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions and increase investment in renewables.

Both political and environmental activism run in the Udall family. Tom’s father, Stewart Udall, served as the Interior secretary under presidents Kennedy and Johnson. His uncle, Rep. Morris “Mo” Udall, was a legendary environmental champion in the House. Prior to his time in Congress, Tom Udall served as the attorney general of New Mexico for eight years.

“Those who say we can’t protect our environment and our jobs at the same time are just plain wrong,” Udall says on his congressional website. His campaign site argues, “As long as the United States relies on foreign energy sources, our national security is at risk. That is just one of many reasons why we need to shift to alternative sources of energy.” He also calls for measures to remove subsidies to Big Oil, fight price gouging, and curb energy futures market speculation.

A recent Udall ad says that we “have to do it all” when it comes to energy, including offshore drilling and nuclear power. The ad also targets Pearce for supporting the oil industry and opposing investments in renewables.

Steve Pearce. Photo: Copyright Ken Longeway

Steve Pearce.

Pearce has a close relationship to the oil industry, which environmental and ethics watchdog groups have pointed out. Up until 2003, Pearce and his wife operated a small oilfield services company called Lea Fishing Tools. They sold the business to Key Energy, a Texas-based oil services company, in exchange for 542,477 shares of common stock, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The value of the stock at that point was $5.2 million, but the president of Key Energy said Lea Fishing Tools was purchased for $12 million. “Rep. Pearce failed to report the transaction on his 2003 financial disclosure report, and the $6.8 million discrepancy remains unresolved,” reports CREW, which listed Pearce as one of the 20 “most corrupt” members of Congress last year.

During this election cycle, Pearce has brought in $314,234 in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests, making him the top recipient of oil and gas money in the entire House. Pearce supports controversial drilling plans for the Otero Mesa in the desert grasslands of southern New Mexico; one of the largest single contributors to Pearce’s campaign has been Yates Petroleum, the biggest lease-holder in the Otero Mesa. Pearce has backed tax breaks for the oil industry, opposed increases to automobile fuel-economy standards, and sided with industry interests on pretty much every environmental question he’s confronted.

“During his five years in Congress, Steve Pearce has voted consistently against the environment,” said LCV Senior Vice President for Political Affairs Tony Massaro in a press release on Pearce’s addition to the Dirty Dozen list.

The energy plans on Pearce’s campaign site are sparse, emphasizing increased drilling and nuclear power and saying that while he supports energy sources like wind and solar, “even significant advancements in renewables will not replace our reliance on traditional sources of energy such as oil and natural gas.”

As for the environment, Pearce says, “I believe our land is a precious resource and we should protect, preserve and use it wisely. In Congress, I have sought to strike a reasonable balance between the preservation of lands to protect our natural heritage and opportunities that are critical to economy of New Mexico.”

Udall is currently the solid front-runner in the race, up by 20 percent in the most recent poll. Both enviros and Democrats are looking at this seat a likely pick-up this year.