Have New Mexico lawmakers acted on climate change? Groups cite 'failure' during session
This year’s legislative session in Santa Fe will end at noon on Saturday, and environmentalists voiced frustration that several efforts targeting pollution and a transition away from fossil fuel energy so far failed to materialize.
Conservation Voters New Mexico held a press conference Thursday calling for “stronger” action to address pollution, arguing lawmakers failed this year during the 60-day policy-driven session to make meaningful change.
Several bills were introduced throughout the session intending to boost renewable energy, enact stronger restrictions on air pollution emissions from oil and gas and support the state’s transition to lower-carbon energy sources.
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Some legislation had passed days before the session’s conclusion.
Senate Bill 9 which would create the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, a fund dedicated to conservation efforts across the state, was awaiting the governor’s signature, along with House Bill 95 which established a permanent renewable energy division of the State Land Office.
And the New Mexico Environment Department, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and Office of the State Engineer all saw increased budgets provide by lawmakers, 14.7 percent, 13.5 percent and 8.8 percent bumps for each agency, respectively, in the budget bill HB 2.
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HB 2 also set aside $50 million to establish the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, with New Mexico House Democrats touting $489.5 million in both recuring and nonrecurring dollars earmarked to support environmental needs.
Lawmakers 'failed' to address climate change, group says
But it wasn’t enough to make a meaningful impact via the Democrat-controlled House and Senate and in the final term of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said Ben Shelton with Conservation Voters New Mexico.
He pointed to Senate Bill 520, known as the Clean Future Act, that would have codified into law several benchmarks for greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in 100 percent carbon free energy statewide by 2045.
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That’s a goal outlined in the Energy Transition Act, a signature piece of legislation signed by Lujan Grisham in 2019 to put the goals in place.
HB 520 was defeated via a vote in its first House committee.
Shelton also argued HB 185, which would have established stronger emission standards for appliances, and HB 188 to create an economic transition for New Mexico away from its reliance on fossil fuels, were also needed policy that did not move forward.
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He pointed to other bills that provided millions of dollars in relief for communities affected by record-breaking wildfires in New Mexico last spring, contending this addressed the “symptoms” of climate change, not the root cause.
“This legislative session has been marked by bills and millions and millions of dollars appropriated to address symptoms of climate change,” Shelton said during the Thursday press conference. “Despite all of this, very little addressing the root causes has moved through the legislature.
“We know New Mexicans want more action on climate. The legislature has failed to address climate change.”
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Sister Joan Brown with New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light said the organization planned to deliver a letter signed by 75 faith leaders around the state to lawmakers calling for stronger action on pollution.
She said it was New Mexico’s “existential” duty to mitigate the impacts of climate change for the betterment of its local communities.
“We must address a transition from fossil fuels to other economies because our faith demands it. We choose life,” Brown said. “In spiritual terms, this is a Kairos moment. A right time to act, a spiritual opportunity. Acting for bold climate change policies is a measure of loving our neighbors.”
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Those impacts were especially felt in Joseph Hernandez’s native northwest New Mexico region, on the Navajo Nation and in his hometown of Shiprock.
He’s an organizer with NAEVA, an indigenous advocacy group, and said the local community in the San Juan Basin was disproportionately affected by expanding oil and gas development in the region.
“We have been bearing the burden of the New Mexico fossil fuel addiction for far too long,” Hernandez said. “To this day we are still suffering the impacts of being a national sacrifice zone for energy.
“When policy makers fail to act on pollution, they are really hurting our communities. Our people deserve better than that.”
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Oil and gas policy 'killing the golden goose?'
Tightening rules on oil and gas operations drew concerns from some leaders in Santa Fe that it could impede an industry known to produce a third of New Mexico’s budget and a multi-billion-dollar funding surplus.
“I think we’re hurting the golden goose,” said Sen. David Gallegos, a Republican from Hobbs during a Senate Conservation Committee hearing considering SB 418.
The bill would have reformed New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Act, expanding state oversight of the industry while lifting a cap on bonding operators pay to fund remediation if wells are abandoned.
It passed that committee, but days before the end of the session was still awaiting a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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“They’re hogtied, blindfolded, gagged and handcuffed, and they (oil and gas) still produce money for our state,” Gallegos continued during the meeting. “Why would we be looking to hurt the industry that’s providing for our students and education?”
Hernandez countered that profitability in the extraction industry recently soared as demand for U.S. oil – much of it produced in New Mexico – grew amid the world’s recovery from COVID-19 and the removal of Russia from many international markets.
He said the industry could afford to comply with stronger policy.
“Oil and gas industry has made record profits. They know they are causing harm to our communities,” Hernandez said. “We know we have to increase accountability. The economy is going to be shifting toward a cleaner future. New Mexico has to be a leader in that.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.