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House committee set to vote on Climate Solutions Act Feb. 24 after lengthy discussion

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — The House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee will vote on a bill on Feb. 24 that one sponsor described as "one of the most comprehensive approaches to climate change that we have ever attempted to take in the State of New Mexico."

Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-Albuquerque, said House Bill 9, known as the Climate Solutions Act, accomplishes this goal in three ways:

  1. It adopts a standard of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and sets the goal of 2050 to reach net zero carbon emissions. While the Energy Transition Act of 2019 set greenhouse gas emission caps for the electric utility sector, this bill sets caps for the whole economy rather than sector by sector.
  2. It directs state agencies to provide tools and resources to communities to help them become more resilient to the impacts of climate change, such as drought and extreme fire.
  3. It creates a sub-council of the existing state Climate Task Force. This sub-council will be focused on diversifying the economy and providing for a just transition.
A truck turns off of NM Highway 574 onto a dirt road, Monday, Jan. 22, 2021, between Aztec and La Plata.

Stansbury explained that 'net zero carbon emissions' means industries can offset their carbon footprint through efforts like carbon sequestration, reforestation or participation in the western or regional carbon markets. 

"This bill is agnostic in how we get to net zero," she said.

The committee discussed the bill for nearly three hours on Feb. 22 before deciding to roll the bill to the next meeting due to time constraints. The bill will be voted on at the start of the 8 a.m. Feb. 24 meeting, which can be viewed on nmlegis.gov.

A pumpjack is seen off of NM Highway 574 near the entrance to Glade Run Recreation Area.

Bill has a broad range of support, and opposition

Opponents argue the bill will negatively impact the economy and reduce the state's tax revenue.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, argued that these initiatives may not be something that small, local oil and natural gas producers can afford.

Petroleum and natural gas industry representatives argued that it places undue burden on already overburdened state agencies that need more funding.

More:Interior Department, tribal leaders to discuss key topics in March

Electrical utilities argued that they were already working under the Energy Transition Act. 

During public comment, Vince Martinez, a lobbyist for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, argued that the state should let the Energy Transition Act fully develop, a sentiment supported by Kevin Groenewold, the CEO of New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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Transmission lines run toward Farmington from New Mexico Highway 574.

Agriculture groups like Dairy Producers of New Mexico said it could hamper plans already in place to reduce the emissions, including a plan for the dairy industry to become carbon neutral.

Michelle Frost-Maynard from the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, who was also speaking on behalf of the New Mexico Wool Growers, argued that the bill has excessively sweeping regulations that would damage agricultural businesses.

More:New Mexico calls for stronger air pollution rules, enforcement citing new evidence of leaks

"The proposed regulations will hamper business development and expansion in New Mexico due to its costly implementation," she argued. "House Bill 9 proposes gas emissions reduction, which does not take into account the agricultural processes that are crucial to the beef supply chain, which is in a great need of expansion in the state."

On the other side, community advocates, especially those from minority communities, as well as environmental groups spoke about the pending impacts of climate change and the need to reduce emissions to prevent a catastrophe.

Duane “Chili” Yazzie, president of the Shiprock Chapter of the Navajo Nation, sits in his ceremonial hogan outside of Shiprock.

During the public comment period, Duane "Chili" Yazzie of Shiprock said he understood the desire to support the energy industry, "but to me that does not compare to the need to save the planet for generations to come." He continued by saying that "we must protect our earth mother because her life is our life."

Maria Nevarez, who introduced herself as a member of the nonprofit group Olé, said that the bill will help the environment as well as creating a good, large economy for the communities that will include clean energy. She added that it would be great pleasure to know that the precious and limited resources in New Mexico are protected.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.