Energy Minister Rocio Nahle dismisses environmental concerns and says Pemex is a “great business”

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As much of the world aims to move away from fossil fuels, Mexico is marching vigorously in the opposite direction — reviving its state oil company Pemex and adding refining capacity even if it means producing more hyper-polluting fuel oil.

Nationalist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has championed the policy in a country that until recently was one of the world’s hottest renewable energy markets. The policy’s leader is his energy minister, Rocio Nahle, who airily dismisses the soaring debt and increasing pollution plaguing Pemex.

The company “is a great business,” said Nahle, who worked there as an engineer. “Pemex has increased its crude production, it is rehabilitating its refineries and we have also raised fuel production.”

Nahle, 57, has staked out a position on the radical edge of Lopez Obrador’s allies, seemingly the closest to the president’s heart. She casts herself as a willing soldier of his “fourth transformation,” which she called a “watershed moment in the modern history of Mexico.”

The most powerful woman in the cabinet and one of the most powerful in the country, Nahle got a boost in July when the president named her among six potential candidates to replace him in 2024. 

It’s unclear how serious he was. But if she were to start assuming a more pronounced public and political role, that would mark a change. Thus far, she’s largely kept a low profile. She sat down for an interview with Bloomberg News but only after the president instructed her to do so after an article raised questions about the $8.9 billion Dos Bocas refinery.

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Rocio Nahle speaks during an interview in Villahermosa, Tabasco state, on Aug. 19.Photographer: Alejandro Cegarra/Bloomberg

Asked about the Bloomberg investigation showing that Pemex had promised to conserve an area including the site where it is building Dos Bocas in Tabasco state, in part due to the presence of mangrove trees, Nahle said there were no mangroves where they are building — only by the river next to the site. 

Mexico’s environment regulator fined a third party for chopping down mangroves on the site in 2019, but Nahle insisted there was no evidence the trees had been there. Satellite imagery shows mangroves continued to be chopped down after Pemex began building the refinery.

“Building something in this world is fantastic, making a refinery is fantastic,” Nahle said in her Tabasco offices, whose walls are covered in construction plans for the refinery. “And for everything there’s an impact and a mitigation. That’s part of the growth and evolution of the world. So I see an incidence here that is quite atypical but nonetheless we are going to continue with this project because this project is for Mexico.”