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David Coss,
Chair, Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club

The 2016 New Mexico legislative session ended late February, defined by a budget that shows our state must diversify its economy from a dependence on the price swings of oil and gas.

Mid-session, lawmakers announced their budget estimate had to be cut back. That brought good and bad news for the environment. Here’s how some of our priority legislation fared:

Supported: Residential solar tax credits (SB13/HB26, Stewart/Maestas-Barnes): Almost all tax credits and cuts were tabled in House and Senate committees after lawmakers decided they must severely cut the proposed budget. New Mexico’s expiring 10% solar tax credits, which have helped spur double-digit job growth in our solar industry and made rooftop solar affordable to thousands of middle-class residents, were among the casualties.

The credit will expire at the end of this year. Because federal tax credits were renewed, we hope the industry continues its upward swing in New Mexico, and we will advocate for renewal of the state credits, which had bipartisan support, at next year’s session. Your calls and emails to your representatives helped show widespread public support for solar tax credits, and that helps make them a top priority if legislators decide to invest in New Mexico’s economy in 2017.

Supported: Tax credits for utility-scale renewable energy (multiple bills): Like the residential solar tax credits, credits for large-scale renewable projects will expire at the end of 2016 because of budget constraints. With your help we’ll make a strong case for these credits next year.

Opposed: Reduced taxes for the oil industry (HB107, Strickler): Several bills would have given a huge tax cut to “stripper wells,” or those close to the end of their production life. The legislation was a bailout of the oil industry and would have cost taxpayers far more than the credits for renewables. These bills also died because of budget concerns.

Supported: Geothermal resource development (HB289, Townsend): This legislation transfers oversight of geothermal resources to the Energy Conservation and Management Division and closes a loophole in the Water Quality Act that allows some permit-holders to avoid environmental rules for wastewater disposal. It will also make it easier for EMNRD to enforce the act by granting it the ability to assess administrative penalties. It passed both chambers with bipartisan support, and is now headed to the governor’s desk!

Supported: Funds for infrastructure rather than Gila River diversion (SB248, Morales): This bill would have taken $13 million from the pot of federal money earmarked for the ill-advised billion-dollar Gila diversion and applied it instead to infrastructure — the Grant County Regional Water Supply Project — to meet the water needs of nearly half of the population of Southwest New Mexico. Proponents of the diversion killed this legislation, but more and more legislators are becoming skeptical of the feasibility and costs of a Gila River diversion.

Because this was a 30-day session intended to focus only on the budget, we didn’t see some of the damaging legislation that we fought off last year, including threats to the Renewable Energy Act and attempts to “pre-empt” local governments’ ability to enforce regulations on oil and gas development. But those threats may emerge in the longer session next year, as will new opportunities.
Please keep in mind that every House and Senate seat is up for election this year, and if we want to renew solar tax credits, expand rather than gut the Renewable Energy Act, keep the Gila River free-flowing and outlaw cruel trapping, we must elect environmental champions in June primaries and the November general election. Would you like to help win elections for the environment this year? Email us at riogrande.chapter@sierraclub.org.

Thank you for everything you do,
David Coss, chair, Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club

How did the environment do in the 2016 NM legislative session?