February 8, 2022

Hydrogen Hub Act on hold after Egolf puts it on ‘Speaker’s Table’

State Rep. Patty Lundstrom’s effort to jump-start what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other proponents call a clean hydrogen economy might be blocked again — this time by House Speaker Brian Egolf.

Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, announced Monday he was putting Lundstrom’s second bill calling for a Hydrogen Hub Act on the “Speaker’s Table” — where it can remain on hold until the session ends or can be put back into play by the speaker.

Egolf wrote in a text message House Bill 227 “will not be heard” before the end of the session. He did not explain why he made the move.

Environmental activists who oppose the governor’s plan to make New Mexico a hub of so-called blue hydrogen production, arguing it will increase emissions amid a global climate crisis, cheered Egolf’s action. But they said they are concerned about other attempts to advance the plan, which remains a high priority for the governor because of the potential new jobs it could create. One version already has been introduced in the Senate.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an email Monday “a clean hydrogen economy is already here to stay in New Mexico — with or without this piece of legislation.”

“We remain confident that the hydrogen economy in New Mexico will continue to grow,” she added, “attracting businesses, generating jobs, and driving down emissions in difficult-to-decarbonize sectors. We must continue to foster a clean hydrogen economy if we are to reach our net-zero goals.”

Lundstrom’s initial legislation, House Bill 4, called for tax incentives for public and private entities to develop infrastructure for separating hydrogen from natural gas for use as an energy source. Carbon dioxide remaining from the process would be stored underground. While the oil and gas industry favors the plan, environmentalists contend it too heavily benefits the fossil fuel industry at a time when New Mexico is making a shift to renewable energy sources.

HB 4 was halted in the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee in late January.

Last week, Lundstrom, a Democrat from Gallup, introduced the new version. It included much of the same language as HB 4 but lowered the allowable levels of carbon dioxide emissions from the process. HB 227 was set to be heard this week in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which Lundstrom chairs.

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, said too many questions remain about efforts to create a hydrogen hub in the state. He lauded Egolf’s move to halt Lundstrom’s latest bill. “This is very good news,” he said. 

Tom Solomon, a retired electrical engineer and co-coordinator of 350 New Mexico, a climate advocacy group, said with just 10 days left in this year’s session, “there are diminishing chances to pass a hydrogen bill.”

But, he added, “Based on how hard they’ve tried so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if they try it again.”

Senate Bill 194, introduced by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, is 10 pages, compared to 68-page HB 4 and HB 227. It provides new definitions for “clean hydrogen” and says methane gas produced or purchased for the creation of hydrogen must be “responsibly sourced gas.”

Solomon said he believes lawmakers who support Lujan Grisham’s push to make New Mexico a center of hydrogen production could find a way to use SB 194 to lay the groundwork for the industry.

The Senate Conservation Committee is scheduled to hear SB 194 Tuesday morning.

Muñoz and Lundstrom did not respond to messages Monday seeking comment on the hydrogen hub legislation.

Lundstrom’s second measure, SB 227, was introduced under a blank piece of legislation known as a dummy bill. Some opponents of a Hydrogen Hub Act said she or another lawmaker could try to use the strategy again during the session to revive the effort.

Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, said Egolf’s action does not mean “this conversation is over. There are a lot of dummy bills out there with committee substitutes that can do all sorts of things. We’ll be keeping our eyes open.”

Egolf’s move came shortly after about two dozen activists, most of whom were Native American, gathered outside the state Capitol to speak against the legislation.

“All it does is bring pollution,” said Krystal Curley, executive director of the advocacy group Indigenous Lifeways.

Her voice sometimes shaking with emotion, Curley spoke about the history of fossil fuel production — from coal mining to oil and gas extraction — which has taken root in the Gallup area, where she lives. She said the operations have negatively impacted the environment and culture of the region. 

“How many more times does my community have to suffer because of corporate greed?” she asked.