NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The congressional representative for the southern half of New Mexico is looking to help oil and gas workers secure healthcare. A new bill introduced in Congress would require oil and gas companies to help cover healthcare for workers’ heat and air quality-related health issues.
The bill (H.R. 5222, The Energy Workers Health Improvement And Compensation Fund Act) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week. The full details have not yet been published on Congress’s website, but the office of Representative Gabe Vasquez (D – NM) says it would establish a trust fund for workers.
Rep. Vasquez suggests that the bill could help oil and gas workers – particularly Hispanic and Native American workers – deal with the potential impacts of working in the industry. Workers in the Permian Basin, in particular, seem to be exposed to poor air quality more often than workers in other parts of the U.S., Vasquez’s office says. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that methane and volatile organic compounds released from oil and gas operations can lead to negative health effects.
“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,” Representative Gabe Vasquez (D – NM) said in a press release. “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.”
Some local activists are applauding the bill:
“New Mexico relies heavily on oil and gas revenues, but lawmakers often ignore the grave cost to frontline communities and industry workers,” Marcela Díaz, the executive director of the social justice group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said in a press release. “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.”
But for the bill to become law, it still has to make it through multiple rounds of debate and be approved by President Joe Biden.
*Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify details and who is sponsoring the bill.