By Luis Guerrero, Rio Grande Chapter Legislative and Political Organizer
From the January/February/March 2023 newsletter
It feels like it was just yesterday that I was coming back home after a busy legislative session in February, and now, everything is ramping back up again. We have an opportunity to make real change for our planet, the climate and our communities in New Mexico.
This year is a “long” 60-day legislative session starting Jan. 17, and there will be many exciting opportunities for Sierra Club members to provide input and participate (sometimes late into the night!) in the process. Below are a few of the bills we are expecting and will be advocating for or against in the next session:
CLIMATE & ENERGY
Climate Solutions and Just Transition:
This legislation will put into law aspects of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Executive Order on Climate Change and create a comprehensive framework for addressing climate change in New Mexico. Building on the Energy Transition Act, which focuses on the electricity sector, the Climate Action Act will likely require a 50% reduction in greenhouse-gas pollution across all economic sectors by 2030 and a 90% reduction by 2050. It grants broad authority to all state agencies to implement the rules necessary to achieve the reduction targets and protect against climate damage.
The bill also establishes a consultation requirement for overburdened communities and Tribal nations and creates a Just Transition Office to coordinate financial resources and government programs to support economic transition of communities most impacted by fossil-fuel pollution and production. It also creates a Resiliency Office and a Climate Crisis Infrastructure Fund to address climate-related emergencies and codifies state policy vehicles to ensure efficient allocation of federal Inflation Reduction Act dollars for energy efficiency, methane reduction programs, environmental-justice block grants, and clean cars and trucks.
Oil and Gas Reform
Legislation will likely be introduced to reform and modernize the 1935 Oil and Gas Act to reflect the public interests at stake today. When the Oil and Gas Act was enacted more than 85 years ago, development of oil and gas resources was the only public interest at that time. Today, we know that oil and gas development is a major contributor to the climate crisis, creates serious health risks from air pollutants; and disproportionately harms frontline communities.
It’s long past time the act was updated to take account of all interests. The New Mexico Oil and Gas Justice and Reform Act will expand the duties and authorities of the Oil Conservation Commission and Oil Conservation Division to include protection of the environment, protection of public health, and meaningful involvement of all the public — especially communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal and indigenous communities who bear the brunt of oil and gas operations. The proposed reform Act will also expand and diversify the composition of the three-member Oil Conservation Commission, charged with making statewide rules, to include two additional members appointed by the Legislature.
Low Income Utility Rates Legislation
This bill will require electric and gas utilities to provide a low-income rate. The goal is to bring the average low-income user to a energy burden of 5% or less. 19 other states already offer a low-income rate.
Climate Investment Center
Creates legislation recognizing a statewide Climate Investment Fund (“green bank”) as an independent nonprofit organization that is an investment vehicle for sustainable energy, water, and transportation projects. The bank would be the landing spot for federal green-bank funds that were established in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Appliance Efficiency Standards
This bill would set minimum energy and water efficiency standards for certain household and commercial appliance products. Designed to create utility bill savings for both individuals and businesses.
Climate Tax Credits
Bills that would encourage the development of geothermal resources, home energy storage, ground source heat pumps and the purchase of EVs and charging units will be a priority this session.
LANDS, WATER & WILDLIFE
Establishes a new conservation fund to help protect New Mexico’s communities from the threat of wildfire, flood, and drought while growing the outdoor economy in rural and urban areas. State investments must be made in the 2023 session to unlock millions of dollars in federal support. Federal Inflation Reduction Act funds cannot flow through to New Mexico without a substantial state fund or consistent conservation investment. Over $3 billion is available nationally in the IRA for forest health, wildfire resilience, river and watershed restoration, and conservation.
Strategic Water Reserve
This bill would provide $25 million to the Strategic Water Reserve. Additional capacity at the Interstate Stream Commission, the agency that oversees the Reserve, of at least one staff member dedicated to planning and implementing this important climate resiliency tool is still needed. The Reserve, created by the Legislature in 2005, is a pool of publicly held water rights dedicated to 1) ensuring New Mexico can meet commitments in our interstate river compacts and 2) assisting New Mexico protect threatened and endangered fish and wildlife, including habitat restoration work. The Strategic Water Reserve is an important tool that can be employed in sustaining environmental flows to our rivers to ensure sustainable and climate-resilient water systems that meet the needs of all water users. A key component of supporting these efforts is adequate and consistent funding and ensuring dedicated agency capacity for implementation.
Water Governance Reform and Climate Resiliency
See separate article on the Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force.
Wildlife Reform Bill
Senator Steinborn will be sponsoring a bill to modernize the statutory language encompassing the Department of Game and Fish so that the scope of the agency’s mission can broaden to better further wildlife conservation in our challenging time of species declines.”
New Mexico Reforestation Center Act
This bill would create the New Mexico Reforestation Center to address the impacts of climate change on the state’s forests, establish a funding account and make an appropriation.
Prevent Temporary Storage of High-Level Nuclear Waste
The bill proposes to ban the storage or disposal of high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico, unless preempted by federal law, just as Texas, Oregon and other states have done.
See article, Page xx9.
Environmental Rights (Green) Constitutional Amendment
This proposed amendment to the New Mexico Constitution adds a new section to the Bill of Rights recognizing a healthy environment as an inherent and generational right of New Mexicans. If passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, government officials would be required to prioritize environmental protection when advancing energy policy, considering development, and crafting and implementing legislation and regulations.
Plastic Pollution Reduction Act
This bill addresses single-use disposable plastics, which break down and contaminate New Mexico’s land and water. It would end distribution of single-use plastic bags at point of sale with a 10-cent fee for paper bags as a funding mechanism for local communities to support recycling and education.
Banning of Neonicitinoids
This bill would reduce the use of neonics in as many places as possible while not completely banning it. Neonics have been found to be extremely toxic to pollinators – especially to bees. Bees and other pollinators are responsible for an estimated one out of every three bites of food! The bill would include an education program to help farmers and backyard gardeners adopt best practices to avoid adverse impacts and help our pollinators – and us – thrive!
Reform of New Mexico Legislature
A proposed Amendment to provisions of the 1912 New Mexico Constitution. Increase the duration of legislative sessions from today’s alternating 30-day and 60-day sessions, to 60-day sessions each year and an option for a 10 day extension, with a goal of improved quality and efficiency by allowing additional time to propose, address and improve legislation. It would provide a salary for legislators, increasing the opportunity for all New Mexicans to become legislators and expanding the diversity of those elected. It authorizes year-long and permanent staff for each legislator. Outside of the sessions, staff could provide greater services, support and availability to constituents.
New Mexico, thanks to our Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, continues to increase access to voting. Though comprehensive voting reforms didn’t pass last session, legislation will return this session.
Featured image, 2017 by Allyson Siwik