February 19, 2023

Bill preventing cities, counties from banning fuel sources passes committee

A bill that would prevent local governments from restricting the types of fuels provided to people in their boundaries narrowly passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Saturday.

The bill passed on a 6-5 vote with Democrats Rep. Cynthia Borrego and Miguel Garcia, both of Albuquerque, voting with the Republicans to pass the bill.

HB 431 is sponsored by Rep. Martin Zamora, R-Clovis, and Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants.

The sponsors described the bill as a consumer protection bill that is intended to prevent people who rely on gas or propane from losing access to that fuel source.

Garcia said his concern is that the infrastructure in rural New Mexico is old and a lot of people rely on gas stoves. He said bans on certain fuel sources would mean people would need to buy new appliances.

Bill opponents say that the restrictions would limit the ability of local governments to make decisions for their communities.

Committee Chairman Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, argued that the fears that people will no longer be able to access gas to heat their homes are unfounded.

“No one’s coming for your gas stove,” McQueen said. “No one’s banning gas stoves. No one’s going into people’s houses and telling them to change out their utilities.”

He said the bill is a pre-emption bill, meaning that it attempts to take control from local communities.

“I understand you don’t want this happening in your communities and this is a bill saying it can’t happen in other people’s communities,” McQueen said. 

He said that if the City of Santa Fe was pushing for legislation telling the City of Springer how to operate, the sponsors would be upset.

“That’s what this bill is, just in reverse,” he said.

The City of Santa Fe sent a lobbyist who spoke in opposition to HB 431.

“The city of Santa Fe is a very progressive city when it comes to developing climate action plans, developing zero emissions policies,” the lobbyist, J.D. Bullington, said. “And it’s very, very outspoken on the subject of renewable energy.”

He said Santa Fe believes that HB 431 is inappropriate and would prohibit the city from making decisions about the type of power that it wants to purchase and provide to its residents.

The bill comes as the Legislature is considering a Local Choice Energy bill that would allow Santa Fe to begin generating or purchasing its own electricity to provide to residents. Bullington said the City of Santa Fe supports local choice energy and that it, and other municipalities, believe strongly in using only renewable energy.

Bill proponents say that the legislation is necessary because limiting access to gas or propane will disproportionately impact low-income and rural communities.

HB 431 now heads to the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee.