January 24, 2023

Bill to create a public health and climate resiliency fund passes first committee

Kendra Chamberlain

The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted 7-2 in support of legislation that would create a public health and climate resiliency program as well as a fund that would assist communities in responding to emergencies related to climate change.

The Public Health and Climate Resiliency bill, SB 5, is sponsored by Democrats Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerillos and Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson of Albuquerque. Stefanics presented the bill to the committee on Monday.

Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, and Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, voted against the bill. 

Ingle said that the bill is “so loosely written that I’m a little bit frightened of…where it will lead us down the path and where we’ll actually get some answers.”

Ingle said during his time in the Legislature he has voted for things that he thought were good proposals, but ended up accomplishing very little.

Should it pass, the statewide Public Health and Climate Program would be within the Department of Health’s Environmental Health and Epidemiology Bureau, which is in turn within the department’s Epidemiology and Response Division.

The Public Health and Climate Program would oversee a created climate resiliency fund that would help communities respond to climate emergencies and prepare for future climate-related events such as extreme weather.

The bill calls for an initial allocation of $1.1 million for fiscal year 2023 and $5 million for fiscal years 2024 through 2028. Communities such as cities and counties or Tribal chapters and Pueblos would be able to receive up to $250,000 in grants.

The state Department of Health will have discretion over how the money is spent, if the bill is passed. The emergencies could induce wildfires related to drought, flooding from monsoon storms or power outages caused by extreme cold.

Prior to the committee discussion, public commenters spoke about climate change’s impacts on New Mexico, including extreme heat, severe weather, decreasing water supplies, increasing incidents of fungus-related diseases and mosquito species that carry diseases expanding their ranges into New Mexico.

During questioning by Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, Stefanics said she views this legislation as an investment. She said it would help communities avert health issues like asthma and mosquito-borne illnesses.

“I think the return on investment will be very significant for those communities that avail themselves of this opportunity,” Stefanics said during questioning by Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, expressed some remorse that the bill focuses on mitigation and adaptation to climate change rather than prevention.

“It saddens me that we are already moving to adaptation and mitigation and not engaging in trying to prevent it,” she said.

SB 5 now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.