The court allows the oil pollution lawsuit in New Mexico to proceed

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A district court in New Mexico has authorized a lawsuit against the governor, Legislature and state agencies for failing to comply with their constitutional duty to protect against pollution from oil and gas drilling.

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

The state and the oil industry filed a motion to dismiss, but Judge Matthew Wilson denied such a motion on Monday, clearing the way for the lawsuit to continue.

The judge justified the decision with the need for a more detailed examination of the state’s responsibilities under the New Mexico Constitution, while granting the motion to dismiss would set aside a more thorough investigation.

The state government is still reviewing Judge Wilson’s decision, a spokesperson for New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, told the AP late 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 depredation of air, water, and other natural resources and to protect New Mexico’s beautiful and healthy environment. Plaintiffs also challenge the state for violating the Constitution’s equal protection and fundamental rights clauses.

Prosecutors say oil production in New Mexico’s Permian Basin has increased nearly tenfold since 2010, leading to a wave of devastating air, water and climate pollution.

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

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

By Tsvetana Paraskova for

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