SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Republican congressman from oil-rich southern New Mexico has approached President Donald Trump's administration with a proposal to construct a refinery in a state grappling with a budget crisis and the nation's second-highest unemployment rate.
Speaking to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce described the refinery project as a possible boon to the private economy and state government finances, while offering no details about the possible location within New Mexico, investors or potential federal subsidies.
Trump has promised increased infrastructure spending to restore lost jobs, accelerate the economy and bring prosperity to more Americans.
"We have pitched the administration on the building of a refinery here," Pearce said. He said the project could be configured to handle New Mexico crude oil, a less intensive task than processing sour, heavy oil that arrives on the Texas coast from countries such as Venezuela.
"The significant thing is that we could at this point be using New Mexico oil," he said. "Imagine if we were able to do it environmentally safe, if we were to build the latest technology here. ... Those would be $60,000-a-year jobs in New Mexico."
Pearce, the former owner of an oil-field services firm, spoke glowingly of Trump's efforts to open the way for various pipeline construction projects in other states and to pressure U.S. companies to invest in manufacturing at home rather than abroad.
He heralded the creation of union jobs at projects including the Dakota Access Pipeline, cleared for construction this week by the Army Corps of Engineers. Native American tribal leaders in New Mexico wrote to Trump in January to express their opposition to extending the pipeline underneath a reservoir in North Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says the project threatens its water supply.
New Mexico's Republican governor and Democratic-led Legislature have been searching for ways to trim the state's dependence on a boom-and-bust oil sector.
Amid plunging state tax revenues linked to energy markets, lawmakers and Gov. Susana Martinez have slashed agency spending and swept cash from school district accounts to plug a current-year budget deficit.
Pearce offered assurances that the local oil and natural gas sector is poised for a comeback, amid a flurry of multi-billion dollar lease acquisitions in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico.
He urged state lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and any bitterness from the 2016 campaign season to focus on redesign regulations without "choking jobs."