Camilla Feibelman, camilla.feibelman@sierraclub.
Santa Fe, NM — The unique 2021 legislative session produced significant environment, climate and justice legislation, all of it signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“We saw legislators innovate and find ways to pass historic legislation despite unprecedented obstacles. We also watched committee strangleholds block legislation critical for New Mexicans’ health and wellbeing. And yet, with the governor’s signature, our public lands will be safe from dangerous traps and poisons; communities around the Gila River will be able to embark on local conservation projects; our civil rights will be actionable; communities have access to creating their own renewable energy; and the path for a just transition to a sustainable economy is clearer.”
The oil and gas industry asserted its influence in a big way, killing some of the most transformational climate and equity legislation. But over the final days, more and more powerfully beneficial bills emerged in the winner’s circle.
We achieved especially gratifying, hard-fought victories with the Community Solar Act and Roxy’s Law, two issues longtime top Sierra Club priorities. Creative partner organizations and sponsors helped the just-transition aspects of the Climate Solutions Act survive as part of the forward-looking Sustainable Economy Task Force (SB112). Gila River Water Projects, HB200, ends the Gila River diversion scheme for good and invests $80 million into local water projects, another long-fought victory.
And while we all witnessed (or experienced) too much arrogant, bullying and infuriating behavior by lawmakers, many more legislators threw their hearts into making life better for our state and our people. Thanks to legislators who advocated eloquently and powerfully for clean-air and wildlife legislation, including Sen. Peter Wirth, for his persistent advocacy for legislation that removes limits on New Mexico’s clean-air protections; and Rep. Chris Chandler, who eloquently and patiently championed Roxy’s Law and Local Air-Quality Regulations; Sens. Bill Soules and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Reps. Melanie Stansbury, Matthew McQueen and Tara Luján all helped us train grassroots activists to be effective advocates during our webinars for volunteers. Sen. Mimi Stewart and Rep. Angelica Rubio helped foster and create both the Climate Solutions Act and the Sustainable Economy Task Force, among many other environmental bills. Many New Mexico organizations built these victories, and you’ll see some of their names below. Rio Grande Chapter legislative chairs Melinda Smith and Patricia Cardona expertly led the crack Sierra Club grassroots lobbying team of more than 1,500 activists (Email firstname.lastname@example.org to join our lobby team).
This legislative session was defined by its highs and lows. Zoom offered unprecedented opportunities to speak out from home, but members of the public were too often refused the ability to comment or raise their voice, in some Senate committees in particular. This session also gave the public a window to the strength and determination displayed by the women and leaders of color in the Senate and House in the face of repeated bullying and abuse.
The best part of these sessions is always working together and hearing from you. Thanks for showing up at Zoom committee hearings and remote trainings and for emailing, calling and posting. The real power the Sierra Club has is you, and the considerable victories out of this session are products of your action.
A few of the major wins and losses of 2021:
Budget and junior money (HB2, SB377) to increase budgets for the New Mexico Environment Department and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. See riograndesierraclub.org for more information.
Climate & just transition
SB112, Sustainable Economy Task Force (Sen. Mimi Stewart, Reps. Angelica Rubio, Melanie Stansbury, Patricia Roybal Caballero, Javier Martinez): Power4NM, a coalition of community organizing groups like OLÉ and CAFÉ, and 350 New Mexico championed this legislation, which will recommend diversification opportunities for New Mexico’s economy. It also requires implementation of recommendations from a Department of Workforce Solutions survey of 1,800 New Mexico frontline workers. Rep. Rubio used her allotted capital money in 2019 to fund the survey. This legislation gives impacted communities a seat at the table in creating a clean-energy economy.
SB84, Community Solar (Sens. Liz Stefanics and Linda López, Reps. Roybal Caballero and Andrea Romero). This legislation, years in the works, will make solar energy more affordable and accessible to all New Mexicans. It allows individuals, school districts, municipalities and tribal governments to subscribe to solar energy without having to install solar panels on site. Thanks to Chapter Executive Committee member Ken Hughes, who led our advocacy and worked with Vote Solar and Rep. Roybal Caballero to champion this legislation.
HB15, Sustainable Buildings Tax Credits (Reps. Kristina Ortez, Tara Luján, Javier Martínez, Linda Serrato; Sen. Peter Wirth): This legislation updates the tax credits for energy-efficient buildings. The state has updated its standards to the most recent international building codes, so this bill creates stronger efficiency standards so tax credits are not awarded for simply complying with the law. The bill gives increased credits for low-income families. Southwest Energy Efficiency Project guided this bill and the Utility Affordability and Relief Act.
Wildlife and wildlands:
SB32, Roxy’s Law (Sens. Gonzalez, McKenna, Reps. McQueen, Chandler): Roxy’s Law outlaws traps and poisons on public lands, with exemptions for Native religious and ceremonial practices and for health and human safety. See opposite page for our Wildlife chair’s article!
HB200, Gila River Water Trust Board (Reps. Matthew McQueen, Nathan Small, Sens. Mim Stewart, Siah Correa-Hemphill): This legislation will direct the remaining $80 million in federal funding for Gila River water uses toward local water-conservation projects and would charge the Water Trust Board with disbursing the remaining funds. This legislation essentially prevents more wasted time and money on the infeasible and expensive Gila River diversion scheme. This is the culmination of years of work by Gila Coalition and Gila Resources Information Project to defend New Mexico’s last wild river.
HB57, Prescribed Burning (Reps. McQueen, Armstrong, Sens. Wirth, Woods) This bill will incentivize prescribed burns on private lands which if untreated can drive and worsen wildfires on surrounding public lands. Thanks to Northern Group leader Teresa Seamster, who helped lead our advocacy for this bill.
SM1, Outdoor Classrooms (Sen. Correa Hemphill) establishes a task force to promote outdoor classrooms in NM and requests that the governor declare an “Outdoor Learning Day.”
Environmental Database (HB51, Rep. Chasey): This legislation creates a central database for environmental reports and statistics that is accessible to the public.
Oil and gas reforms:
SB8, Local Air-Quality Regulations (Sen. Wirth, Reps. Chandler and Small): This legislation, first proposed 15 years ago, would allow New Mexico to create air-quality safeguards that are stronger than federal regulations.
HB76, Air-Permit Denial for Bad Actors (Rep. Chris Chandler, Sen. Peter Wirth): This bill allows the state to revoke or deny permits to companies that have lied on their applications or committed environmental felonies.
HB4, Civil Rights Act (Reps. Egolf, Louis, Sens. Cervantes): Allowing those whose civil rights have been violated to take action in state court. This eliminates qualified immunity.
HB231, Native American Polling Places (Sen. Benny Shendo, Rep. Georgene Louis): This legislation would allow tribes and pueblos to set their own polling-place locations and remove obstacles that prevent some Pueblo members from voting in the 2020 primary because of pandemic restrictions.
HB9, Climate Solutions Act (Reps. Melanie Stansbury, Angelica Rubio, Brian Egolf; Sens. Mimi Stewart, Nathan Small): This bill would have codified Gov. Lujan Grisham’s climate executive orders into law. It combined strong greenhouse-gas reductions across New Mexico’s economy with equity and just-transition components that were later combined into SB112 and passed.
HB206, Utility Relief and Affordability Act (Reps. Ortez and Luján): This bill would have prohibited utility disconnections resulting from the pandemic and authorized the Public Regulation Commission to establish low-income rates. It also created a block grant to distribute federal CARES Act funds for energy-efficiency projects in low-income communities. HB206 passed the House and one Senate committee, never to be heard in the Finance Committee.
SB86, Produced Water: This bill, sponsored by Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, would have prohibited use of freshwater in fracking and made spills of oil and gas waste liquids illegal. The bill was tabled by the Judiciary Committee, where opponents were allowed to comment, but supporters were not. The oil and gas industry showed its influence in the rejection of this bill, but it will be back. Special thanks to the Rio Grande Chapter’s Dale Doremus for her expertise in crafting this bill.
SB82, Radioactive Waste Review: This bill would have required to the state to review impacts of storing high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico. Thanks to Sen. Jeff Steinborn, who was willing to amend it to indicate that review did not indicate state acceptance of the radioactive waste. Thanks to Nuclear Storage Team chair John Buchser and to Pat Cardona for their advocacy. See Page 8 for the latest on Holtec.
SB11, Clean Fuels Act (Sen. Mimi Stewart): Would have created a program to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels.
HJR1, Green Amendment: Would have added environmental- and cultural-protection language to the state Constitution Bill of Rights, subject to a ballot resolution in the next general election.
SB149, Fracking Pause: Would have paused fracking on state lands to review environmental and fiscal impacts.
HB50, Private Right of Action: Would have allowed citizens to sue for enforcement of environmental laws.
SB114 (formerly HB74): Would have restored voting rights to those formerly incarcerated upon their release.
HB108, Solid Waste Fees: Would have improved the Environment Department’s ability to keep solid waste dumps safe.
SM12, Dairy Rule Effect on Groundwater Resources: Would have required key groundwater reporting on dairy impacts on groundwater.