By Brittany Fallon, Rio Grande Chapter lobbyist
Thrillingly, New Mexico is riding a green wave, electing a pro-environment governor and significant state House majority in November. This impressive lineup means our state is poised for us to take advantage of a number of big environmental opportunities during the 2019 legislative session.
As we look toward the session’s start on Jan. 15, one buzzy topic you’ll hear a lot about is the so-called “rocket docket,” a suite of state bills that passed within the last two years by an overwhelming majority, only to be vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. Senate and House leaders have agreed to expedite these bills in an effort to make substantial legislative progress, hopefully within the first few weeks of the session. This is good news for us, because it will push through a large number of bills that otherwise might have taken up committee time.
The Rio Grande Chapter’s primary focus this year is passing an improved Renewable Portfolio Standard to expand our current requirement for utilities to provide 20% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020. Our goal is to pass a standard requiring that big New Mexico utilities provide 80% of their electricity from clean sources such as wind, solar, or battery storage by 2040. We are also working on multiple fronts to ensure that New Mexicans have the opportunity for job training and registered apprenticeships for renewable-energy career paths.
Other priority legislation:
Securitization of San Juan Generating Station debt: Securitization is a progressive tool used to retire aging coal plants with less financial burden on ratepayers than other closure methods. This bill puts the remaining money owed (“stranded assets”) on San Juan coal plant into AAA-rated bonds, allowing ratepayers to pay back the debt they still owe on the plant at a low interest rate over time. The bill also includes funding for investment and community rebuilding in the Four Corners area, and requires replacement energy to come from clean energy sources.
End coyote-killing contests, once and for all: Competitions for prizes that include cash and firearms for killing the most coyotes, and sometimes the biggest and smallest coyotes, are going on almost every weekend in New Mexico during the winter months. The bill to prohibit these events has passed both houses of the legislature in previous sessions, but not yet in the same session. Now we have a governor we hope will sign this bill. With a 46-24 majority in the House, we have high hopes that this will be our year to ban these senseless contests, where coyotes are lured and killed en masse. Trapping and Game Commission-reform bills will also be considered (see trapping article).
Restore the Oil Conservation Division’s authority to fine: Currently, our oil and gas enforcement agency, meant to protect us from leaks and spills, does not have the authority to impose fines or penalties on bad actors without going through the attorney general. This bill would restore the Oil Conservation Division’s enforcement authority, holding violators accountable and providing increased revenue for our state.
State Land Office royalty rates: This bill would provide the land commissioner with the authority to increase revenue from gas produced on state trust lands, most of which goes toward New Mexico’s public schools. The current royalty rate cap is 20%, and this bill would increase the possible royalty rate to 25%, bringing New Mexico in line with Texas. The bill would also allow the Land Office to collect royalties on waste gas.
Electric-vehicle infrastructure and tax credit: The first bill moves us toward an electric future by investing in infrastructure and allowing utility cost recovery for electrification so long as the investments are good for customers. The second bill is a tax rebate for New Mexicans who make under $50,000 per year when purchasing an electric vehicle.
Energy Efficiency: Efficiency measures, like better lighting or appliances, are one of the best ways to save money and electricity, reducing carbon pollution. This bill updates the Efficient Use of Energy Act to include updated goals and cost recovery, as well as measures like home weatherization for low-income New Mexicans.
If this list seems overwhelming, don’t worry; during the January lobbyist trainings around the state (see below), we’ll be breaking down the bills in detail to help you make your voice heard at the Legislature. See you there!