January 29, 2023

Carbon sequestration bill passes House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee

In the effort to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius (nearly 35 degrees Fahrenheit), technology like carbon capture and sequestration may be needed, according to reports from groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, pointed to that report when presenting a bill that would provide $2.4 million of state money for New Mexico so that the state could seek primacy over Class VI wells. 

Dixon sponsored House Bill 174 along with Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces. 

The bill passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 6-4 vote. It now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Primacy would allow the state to permit the groundwater storage wells where captured carbon would be sequestered rather than waiting for federal approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dixon said this would allow for faster permitting, which she said is important in the race to cut emissions.

Opponents of HB 174 say this money is unnecessary in part because the federal government already is providing $50 million for states so that they can pursue primacy over those wells. This funding was included in the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

While reports from groups like the IPCC do point to carbon capture as an important tool to limiting warming, they look at the carbon capture as a way to decarbonize the hard-to-decarbonize sectors like steel production. The IPCC report from 2022 still emphasizes the need to move away from fossil fuels wherever possible.

Opponents of HB 174 expressed concerns that carbon capture in New Mexico would be used to prop up the fossil fuel industry. They also questioned if New Mexico has the capacity to run its own Class VI program given the struggles that state agencies have had in enforcing existing rules, including well inspections. 

They also expressed concerns about potential contamination of land and groundwater. 

Instead, opponents say state money could better be used to further solar and wind energy deployment.

Small said that the legislation does not give an artificial deadline, does not focus on any one sort of technology and is meant to give New Mexico the ability to do the rigorous research, have the proper staffing levels and do the state specific work that “I think I and many others feel more comfortable with” rather than “outsourcing” that work to the federal government. 

Dixon said the bill includes funding to fully staff the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department for the Class VI primacy.