Representative Gabe Vásquez (N.M.-02) announced H.R. 5222, The Energy Workers Health Improvement And Compensation Fund Act, to prioritize the health care of energy workers, holding accountable polluters and wealthy, out-of-state oil executives, during an event with Somos Un Pueblo Unido on August 16.
Vásquez worked closely with local energy workers in the Permian Basin, many of them Spanish-speaking and Latino, to better understand the challenges they and their families face amid record profits they’ve generated for oil and gas barons and massive new investments in energy production in southeast New México. Together, they crafted solutions to ensure the well-being of New México’s energy workers, their families and New México communities, while protecting New Mexico’s long-term economic prospects.
“Oil-and-gas CEOs who are raking in record profits aren’t the heart of our energy economy, it’s the workers who risk their lives and health every day that power America’s energy economy,” said Vasquez. “That’s why I’m standing by the workers, not the oil barons. I’m focused on investing in the folks who have generated hundreds of millions in revenue for our state. This is hard work, and it’s dangerous and tireless – if oil executives are getting paid over $35 million, they can afford dignified health care for their employees. This bill helps level the playing field.”
Speaking in Hobbs, a community crucial to New México’s energy industry, Rep. Vasquez announced the details of The Energy Workers Health Improvement And Compensation Fund Act, which requires oil and gas companies to contribute to a fund to cover health expenses for workers and their families for conditions such as asthma, heat-related illness, and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases associated with air pollution and prolonged exposure to methane emissions
New México ranks forty-first in the nation for overall air quality and has a higher prevalence of asthma than the national average. Unhealthy air quality is most common in the Permian Basin due to methane leaks from oil wells. Notably, Hobbs–where the event took place–often has the worst air quality in the state, according to IQAir. According to the EPA, methane emissions and other volatile organic compounds irritate the lungs, exacerbate diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
On August 8, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a $5.5 million fine to Mewbourne Oil Company for excessive air pollution which is linked to the illnesses covered by Vásquez’s legislation. In July, the EPA levied a $1.285 million penalty against Callon Permian LLC for violations of the Clean Air Act. In March, the EPA fined Matador Production Company over $1.15 million for air quality violations, Permian Resources Operating, LLC $610,000 for methane emissions violations, and Chisholm Energy Operating, LLC $440,000 for unauthorized emissions that could negatively impact human health.
“The workers in these fields slog through dangerous conditions and are often exposed to airborne toxins. I’m making sure our energy workers are being prioritized, and that while the rich are getting richer, the companies and people responsible for creating these health disparities are being held accountable,” said Vásquez. “The bottom line is that we can have responsible oil and gas production that protects our health and our communities. This bill supports the backbone of our New Mexico economy—our energy workers.”
In 2022, Exxon Mobile’s CEO earned $35.9 million in total pay, while the median pay for Exxon’s workers fell by 9 percent.
Oil and gas profits are not going to the workers–they are going to wealthy CEOs, while the energy workers are living in RVs and temporary trailer homes, risking their health and safety. According to Somos Un Pueblo Unido, nearly half of energy workers have reported an injury on the job, the majority of which are permanent.
“New México relies heavily on oil and gas revenues, but lawmakers often ignore the grave cost to frontline communities and industry workers,” said Marcela Díaz, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “Immigrant families in the Permian Basin are disproportionately impacted by inadequate enforcement of health and safety standards, long hours, and extreme work conditions. That’s why they are organizing and demanding adequate compensation, safer and better jobs, and more public investments in their families and communities. We are greatly encouraged by Congressman Vasquez’s willingness to listen to and stand up for these essential workers, not just industry owners.”
“As a former industry worker who suffered injuries and health problems because of my job, I think this bill is a great first step in providing protection and compensation to essential oil and gas workers,” said Manuel Garfio, a former oil worker and member of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, who is out of work because of an on-the-job vehicular accident and chronic illness. “Our working conditions are inhumane. We do not receive fair compensation when injuries occur, or health problems emerge. I hope we can continue working with elected leaders like Congressman Vásquez to ensure our frontline communities are included in conversations about worker’s rights and the need for a just transition for oil workers.”
New México’s second congressional district is one of the top energy-producing districts in the country. Hobbs, New Mexico is located in Lea County, which produces more oil than any other county in the United States. In the Permian Basin, oil and gas production has increased nearly every year since 2013 and is on track to hit new records this year.
Oil-and-gas CEOs who are raking in record profits aren’t the heart of our energy economy, it’s the workers who risk their lives and health every day that power America’s energy economy.”
U.S. Rep. Gabe Vásquez
This new legislation combined with the event’s focus on understanding the hardships faced by the predominantly Latino oil workers in New México underscores Representative Vásquez’s commitment to championing workers’ rights and well-being.
H.R. 5222, The Energy Workers Health Improvement and Compensation Fund Act, would establish a trust fund that would provide reimbursement to energy workers for health costs associated with poor air quality and intense heat.
Energy companies would pay for the fund and each company would be responsible for contributing an amount equal to the compensation provided to their ten highest paid employees.
Workers would be eligible to seek reimbursement for costs not covered by private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid that are linked to asthma, heat-related illness, or other ailments determined to be linked to smog and methane exposure.
Both energy workers and their immediate families who live near oil extraction sites would be eligible to seek reimbursement through this fund.
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