By Brittany Fallon, Conservation and Legislative Organizer
Imagine a 100% carbon free future, where New Mexican homes are powered largely by renewables, with a low energy footprint due to efficiency measures, and where increased access to charging stations mean we can drive electric vehicles all over the state. That vision is what we have accomplished this session, and I want to congratulate each and every one of you on our historic climate wins.
New Mexico is the third state in the country to pass 100% carbon-free legislation, with perhaps the strongest mandate of the three, and I hope you all can truly feel how significant that is. I thank you, wholeheartedly, for every call and e-mail on every bill. You have built one of the most powerful grassroots forces in New Mexico.
So, what’s next? The interim legislative session starts in late summer, and I am looking ahead at legislation we want to run again – for example, Community Solar – and new legislation we’d like to introduce. Do you have ideas for ways to improve our state law? Contact me!
Below, I’ve included our wins and future wins – just because something didn’t pass this year doesn’t mean we’ve lost our chance. It can take several years to pass game-changing legislation, as it did for many of the bills passed this year. Now the important work becomes following up and building relationships with your legislators. In a week or two, we’ll feature Roundhouse champions, those who should have done better, and a few who may swing their votes toward the environment with a little work. For now, take a break and pat yourself on the back!
Energy Transition Act (SB489): Forging a path for the closure of the San Juan coal plant, creating a safety net for coal workers and the impacted community and requiring 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045 – making New Mexico one of the first states to do so, along with Hawaii and California. This is momentous legislation that sets a new benchmark for our neighboring states.
Another powerful aspect of SB489 that didn’t get much attention is the gaping loopholes it closes in the current Renewable Energy Act, which allowed large industrial electricity users to pay less for renewables, even though they received all the economic and environmental benefits. That loophole also slashed the renewable energy actually provided by utilities. Our law might say 15% by 2015, but utilities are producing more like 12%. That’s all gone. Utilities are going to have to start ramping up their percentages of renewables, and fast. Thanks to you.
Energy Efficiency Act (HB291, SB136): Removes disincentives for utilities to invest in energy efficiency, the cheapest and most effective way to reduce our climate impact. It’s a wonky issue and a really big deal for greenhouse emissions from electricity. It requires utilities to carry out programs that benefit rate payers like home energy audits, etc.
Electric-vehicle Infrastructure (HB521): This clears the way for companies to install EV-charging stations and requires investor-owned utilities to develop transportation electrification plans. That will increase access to EV charging infrastructure in the state, a critical step in accelerating adoption of electric vehicles. The tax credit for buying EVs did not pass, but getting the infrastructure in place makes the path a lot easier for that legislation to pass very soon.
Oil Conservation Division Fees (SB553): This establishes rules to create a new schedule of administrative filing fees, application fees, and permit fees, helping to increase badly needed funding to the Oil Conservation Division, which regulates oil and gas drilling in New Mexico.
Produced Water & OCD fines (HB546/SB186): HB546, which clarified jurisdiction and liability for produced water, was combined with SB186, the bill to restore the Oil Conservation Division’s authority to fine operators for violating laws and safety regulations. This marks the first time in a decade that the Oil Conservation Division is able to assess penalties – drillers have committed more than 10,000 violations since 2009, but have only been fined four times (in cases where the State Land Office stepped in). Some of the teeth were taken out of SB186, reducing fines and the cap on fines, when it was added to HB546. We’ll work on lifting those caps in the next session.
Ending coyote-killing contests in New Mexico (SB76): Ends senseless killing contests that award prizes for participants who kill the most, the largest and, often, the smallest coyotes. This year, this legislation passed both chambers of the Legislature for the first time. Nearly 1,000 of you have written to Gov. Lujan Grisham to ask her to outlaw coyote-killing contests once and for all. She’s receiving lots of pressure from our opponents, so it’s important to let her know we’ll have her back if she does the right thing.
Water Data (HB651): Improves water-data integration, transparency, and tools for state water planning. Allows state agencies to collaborate on water data. This bill was confusingly tabled in the final days of the session so it could be amended, but it was quickly updated with a friendly amendment and passed by both chambers.
Outdoor Recreation (SB462): Creates an Office of Outdoor Recreation and Outdoor Equity Fund. This bill creates an infrastructure and plans for getting all New Mexico kids outside. A huge deal for the future of New Mexico tourism!
Wildlife Corridors (SB228): This bill calls for a Wildlife Corridors Action plan for state agencies to identify and maintain areas important for wildlife movement, especially concerning risky highway crossings and dangerous road segments.
Healthy Soil Act (HB204): Promotes soil health stewardship by creating a program to provide ongoing trainings and facilitate workshops, grants, and educating the public about the importance of soil health stewardship.
Solar Energy Improvement Assessments (HB440): Improves the framework for counties and cities to work together in order to pay the upfront costs of for solar for individuals, which is then paid back through property tax assessments.
Failed to pass
A few of these had a good chance to become law this year, so their loss is disappointing, but our proactive new governor and a slew of progressive freshman legislators produced a massive volume of bills, and there just isn’t time to pass them all in 60 days. Other important bills were blocked by intransigent legislators, a reminder that state senators weren’t up for election in 2018, but they will be in 2020…
Study energy-extraction impact on tribal people (House Memorial 73): This memorial requested a study of the economic, health, environmental and social costs of extractive and fossil fuel impacts to the indigenous communities of New Mexico. It reached the House floor but never came up for a vote. The study proposed in the Memorial can still go forward if we and partners can find funding for it.
Climate Resilience for New Mexico (HB28), requiring state agencies to make sustainability, energy-efficiency and climate-resiliency plans, died in the Senate Finance Committee, but sponsor Rep. Melanie Stansbury says a salary for a chief sustainability officer was included in the final budget, which paves the way to implementing the key aspects of this bill.
Solar Tax Credits (SB518): It’s been a priority for years to reinstate state tax credits for those who install solar at their residences or businesses, and this year this bill sailed through committees only to stall out on the last day on the House floor due to Republican filibustering. Many bills that would improve New Mexicans’ lives died on the House calendar in the final day or so because of this spiteful tactic.
Roxy’s Law (HB366): This bill to ban cruel traps and poisons on public lands in New Mexico passed two committees, further than it has ever gotten. This is the seventh year this legislation has been in the works – and to put that into perspective, the bill to ban cockfighting took 17 years to pass. Our Trap-Free New Mexico coalition will not be giving up until this becomes law, too.
Competitive procurement (SB456): SB456 would require utilities to issue requests for proposals on all new energy sources to ensure they are providing the lowest-cost solutions for new sources of electricity, was tabled by the Senate Corporations Committee. We will pursue this further at the Public Regulation Commission, where commissioners are within their authority to require competitive procurement of utilities and where there is an open inquiry on how the concept might be implemented.
Community Solar (HB210): This legislation, which Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero has sponsored for several years, would make solar accessible and affordable to more New Mexicans by clearing the way for local entities to build and sell power from community solar gardens. That allows people who rent or can’t install solar rooftops to still buy into solar power. This bill died after delayed hearings and weakening amendments that gave utilities more power to crowd out competition by building their own solar gardens. It will be a top priority in the next session.
Wildlife Trafficking (SB38): Made it to the House floor on the last day, but was withdrawn when it became clear Republicans were filibustering and would have stalled all progress with only a few hours left to hear many important bills.
Raising oil and gas royalties (SB500, HB398): This bill would bring New Mexico oil and gas royalty rates in line with neighboring states. The House version died, despite strong support by Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia-Richard, and the Senate version passed Senate Conservation but was never scheduled in Senate Corporations. This is the first year for this legislation, and Garcia-Richard’s support gives it a better chance next year.
Finally, we want everyone to take some time to think about the politics of the Roundhouse. The power of our ideas isn’t always enough to move them through the legislature, especially without the pro-environment majority in the Senate that we are enjoying in the House. As savvy grassroots lobbyists, it’s critical to understand how important elections are and how to finesse our bills through the legislature by making the system work for us. Persistence, preparation and strategy in the long term are key, and we MUST use the power we have as constituents and voters.