By Dan Lorimier, Rio Grande Chapter lobbyist
Fewer environmental bills are on tap for the New Mexico legislative session that starts Jan. 16, but there should still be room for promising energy legislation.
The Legislature holds shorter, 30-day budget-focused sessions on even years that are restricted to legislation that has an impact on the state budget and bills the governor puts on her call. That leaves less room for some of the legislation focusing on wildlife and land protections that Sierra Club members and our allied groups usually support, but several promising energy bills are likely to need your activism.
The state’s coffers have a few more coins clinking around in them than in the past several years, in part resulting from increased oil and gas activity. That means lawmakers will be more willing to consider legislation like the expired tax credits for residents and small businesses who install solar rooftops.
Last year, Sen. Jeff Steinborn sponsored a bill that would allow for the state to save money by installing solar on state buildings. It passed both houses but stopped on Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk. We are likely to see that legislation again.
There also may be an effort to pass a tax credit for energy storage, which is key to making a full transition from climate-damaging fossil fuels to clean energy.
We will also advocate for some of the extra funds to go toward much-needed inspection and enforcement functions of the Environment Department and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.
During the last few months of 2017, the Legislative Finance Committee and other interim legislative committees have heard and discussed budget requests from the various state agencies. Taken together, these agency budget requests, after negotiation and compromise, are the beginning of the state budget. At least that is how it’s supposed to work.
During 30-day sessions the Sierra Club often defends budget requests from state agencies we rely on to keep contaminants out of our air and drinking water.
The New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department are both organizationally dessicated after several years of budget reductions, and their budgets, at least for oversight and enforcement, will need our support.
Because the legislative process is so ponderous, it’s difficult to pass a proactive bill through both the House and the Senate during a short session.
Adding to the complexities of budget sessions are the upcoming elections, which will include the entire state House as well as the governor. Senators aren’t up until 2020. Representatives, however, will see themselves under a pre-election magnifying glass.
New Mexico has the nation’s last “citizen” (unpaid) legislature. With around 2 million residents, every New Mexican can have a real impact on what our legislature can accomplish.
Again this year, the Rio Grande Chapter, along with partner organizations, is offering workshops to train citizens on how to lobby your legislators. We held trainings in Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Deming, and more are scheduled for Santa Fe on Jan. 17 and Farmington and Counselor on Jan. 10. Contact Diane Reese for details.
This year has proved that citizen engagement really does make a difference. Please contact me at If you plan to come to the Santa Fe Roundhouse during the legislative session, try for Feb. 1, Land Air Water and Wildlife (and Renewable Energy) Day at the Legislature! More than 20 environmental organizations will have tables set up and there will be a press event in the Rotunda at noon.
Featured image: Dan Lorimier – our astounding lobbyist on final day of the legislature – relaxing! Photo by Teresa Seamster.