February 4, 2023

Economic transition bill passes committee on party-line vote

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

An abandoned pumpjack is seen in a field in Kirtland.

A bill intended to assist fossil fuel workers as the economy transitions passed the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a 6-3 party-line vote on Friday.

HB 188 would create an economic transition division within the state’s Economic Development Department and would appropriate $13.385 million to the department. That approximately $13 million includes $10 million that would be placed in an economic transition fund and could be used for grants or loans to assist displaced workers.

The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces; Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos; Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe; Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland; and Rep. D. Wonda Johnson, D-Rehoboth.

Dozens of people attended the committee meeting to speak in support of the legislation, including Francisco Garcia, who spoke in Spanish to the committee. Garcia said he has worked in the oil and gas industry since 1982. He spoke about an injury he had on the job where a pipe crushed his hand. He was among several immigrants who spoke about the challenges that oil field workers and their families face.

Other community members spoke about the environmental and health impacts of fossil fuel extraction.

Climate and environmental advocates said it is important to transition away from fossil fuels, but that workers should not be left behind in that process.

Kurt Rager, the director of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of New Mexico, spoke on behalf of the New Mexico Conference of Churches in urging the committee to pass the bill.

“We believe that climate change is real and that we are seeing the consequences of this change across the state in a myriad of destructive ways,” he said.

He said they also acknowledge that the state’s budget and economy as well as numerous frontline communities “are radically over reliant” on the extraction of fossil fuels.

A handful of opponents also spoke during the public comment section, including a former Congressional candidate Alexis Martinez Johnson, who said it is important “that we do a reality check.”

She said that many activists “and what-not” spoke Friday morning.

“Let’s also remember that oil and natural gas industry is vital to New Mexico,” she said.

She said that “we have the abilities through science and engineering” to be good environmental stewards while also continuing extraction of fossil fuels.

HB 188 builds off of past legislation, including the 2019 Energy Transition Act. While being questioned by Rep. John Block, R-Alamogordo, Rubio said HB 188 is not intended to replace the Energy Transition Act, but to fill some of the gaps. 

While oil and gas are producing record profits for New Mexico, that is expected to change in the next decade.

Additionally, while being questioned by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, Rubio said the legislation could also help workers during downtimes, or busts, in the industry.

HB 188 now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.