A proposed amendment to the New Mexico Constitution to protect the state’s natural resources and environment passed the Senate Rules Committee Monday on a party-line vote.
Senate Joint Resolution 3, sponsored by Democratic state Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque, Bill Soules of Las Cruces and Harold Pope Jr. of Albuquerque, would provide residents of New Mexico with environmental rights, including a right to a clean and healthy environment and a right to the preservation of the environment. Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, is the House sponsor of the legislation.
If the legislation passes both chambers, it would go to the voters in 2022 to decide whether or not to add it to the state constitution.
Sedillo Lopez previously told NM Political Report that the amendment is part of the national Green Amendment movement, which aims to enact protections for the environment within state constitutions. The idea was first championed by Delaware Riverkeeper and author Maya van Rossum, who visited the state in 2019 to campaign for a green amendment to be adopted in New Mexico.
“The proposed environmental rights amendment in SJR 3 is not merely an aspirational goal, it will provide procedural and substantive protections for the environment and the people of New Mexico,” van Rossum told legislators last week. She added that the language and placement of the amendment to the state’s constitution “will ensure that government seeks to avoid environmental pollution and degradation, as part of the decision making process.”
“[The amendment] provides a powerful benefit for environmental justice by requiring that environmental rights are protected equitably across communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, geography, wealth, or generation,” van Rossum said. “And notably, the cultural environmental values of New Mexico’s Native American communities receive explicit protection when government action does infringe on environmental rights.”
Sedillo Lopez noted that the state Legislature previously passed an “anti-pollution amendment” to the state’s constitution in 1971, but said the amendment wasn’t effective.
“It is archaic, and it’s not enforced,” she said. “Now, we have the opportunity to give the people another chance to express their voice about the importance of our land, water, air and cultural rights for now and future generations.”
Terry Sloan, who is Diné and Hopi and serves as director to the non-governmental organization Southwest Native Cultures, spoke in support of the amendment and called it a “no-brainer.”
“My Navajo and Hopi culture teaches that we are tenders of the land, caretakers of Mother Earth, and her inhabitants,” Sloan said. “It does not take being a native, Indigenous person to see and understand that a New Mexico green amendment is a way of taking care of Mother Earth, and her and her inhabitants, which are you and I.”
Debate on the amendment, which spanned committee meetings held last week and on Monday, focused on concerns voiced by Republicans that the amendment would inadvertently eliminate the position of State Land Commissioner and whether the proposal would impact oil and gas production in the state. Sedillo Lopez stressed that the amendment would do neither.
“This amendment would not stop oil and gas drilling in the state. What it would do is it would encourage legislators, as a matter of policy and respecting the voice of the people, to regulate it so that it does not destroy the land, does not pollute the air and does not risk polluting the water or taking all the water out first,” Sedillo Lopez said.
The committee ultimately adopted a substitute version introduced by Sedillo Lopez with language tweaks. That version passed the committee 7-4, without Republican support. The proposed amendment heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.