February 15, 2022

Controversial ‘hydrogen hub’ bill is dead

Matthew Reichbach

One of the most contentious bills in this year’s legislative session is dead.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Monday announced he was moving House Bill 228 — aimed to help New Mexico become a hub of clean hydrogen energy — to the “Speaker’s Table,” where it will remain on hold until the session ends.

Camile Ward, spokeswoman for House Democrats, wrote in an email “the bill will not be considered further this session.”

The bill’s chances of making it through the session at this point were slim, as the session concludes at noon Thursday. Even if the House had approved the legislation and sent it to the Senate, it had to pass through at least one committee hearing before getting a vote in the full chamber. 

Egolf permanently tabled a previous incarnation of the legislation, House Bill 227, last week. He said the bill would not be considered.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, revamped that legislation into HB 228 and eliminated a provision giving tax credits to interested industry parties. Instead those wanting to develop the hydrogen industry in the state would apply for public/private partnership money to be vetted and approved by a hydrogen hub development board and approved by the New Mexico Finance Authority.

Lundstrom said she hoped to get the initiative going at the abandoned Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, creating 500 temporary construction jobs and  between 60 and 100 permanent jobs.

Lundstrom did not return a call seeking comment Monday evening. 

Environmental activists opposed the initiative, saying it would lead to the emission of more fossil fuels at a time when the state is trying to reduce its carbon footprint. 

Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, wrote in an email Monday she believed Egolf’s action meant the bill was permanently tabled and thus would not get a hearing.  Her organization opposes the legislation.

“Hydrogen is a hugely complex issue that requires a careful and inclusive conversation with all stakeholders, especially those on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction,” she wrote. “The Speaker is wise to slow the conversation in this session. We need to understand how fossil fueled hydrogen impacts our climate, local air quality, community health and potentially our economy in ways we haven’t had a chance to fully vet.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced late last year her intent to leverage federal funds to build a clean hydrogen industry in New Mexico. Her office has said it will make that plan happen one way or the other. 

Nora Meyers Sackett, spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an email Monday night that “a clean hydrogen economy is already here to stay in New Mexico, with or without legislation. We remain confident that the hydrogen economy in New Mexico will continue to grow, attracting businesses, generating jobs, and driving down emissions in difficult-to-decarbonize sectors.”