Bill focused on remediation of San Juan Generating Station, mine passes committee

State Rep. Anthony Allison spoke about the uranium contamination that has impacted Navajo and Pueblo communities, including leading to increased cancer rates and groundwater contamination. He said with the closing of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station and its associated coal mine, it is important not to make the same mistakes that were made with the uranium mines. Allison, a Democrat from Fruitland, has sponsored House Bill 142, which would require the state’s environment department and the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to oversee remediation and reclamation efforts. This would include evaluating current conditions and developing a plan for remediation and reclamation. It also includes regular reports to the Legislature, including a remediation and restoration study that would be due by July 1, 2025.

Committee tables bill to expand ONRT’s authority to pursue damages following contamination

An effort to expand the state’s Natural Resources Trustee ability to sue companies that pollute New Mexico’s land and water failed to make it past its first committee despite significant changes made in a committee substitute. While the Office of the Natural Resources Trustee can pursue damages in court when waters are polluted, this does not apply to all types of contaminants. For instance, the ONRT does not have the ability to pursue damages if PFAS contaminates groundwater or if an oil or gas spill contaminates water that is not considered waters of the United States. HB 91, sponsored by Democratic representatives Joanne Ferrary of Las Cruces and Tara Lujan of Santa Fe, would have changed that. 

The legislation was tabled in the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Saturday on a 5-3 vote. Rep. Cynthia Borrego, D-Albuquerque, crossed party lines and voted with the Republicans to table the legislation.

Economic transition bill passes committee on party-line vote

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.

Regional water utility legislation heads to Senate floor

A bill intended to make it easier for water utilities to create regional entities heads to the Senate floor after passing the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday. SB 1 is intended to increase water resiliency within New Mexico by helping small water systems reach economies of scale that will allow them to address issues with aging infrastructure and water quality. It is sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerillos, and Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo. Herrera joined Wirth in presenting the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Related: Legislation to help water utilities form regional partnerships advances

Wirth said the legislation would not require any water system to join a regional partnership, or regional water authority.

Bill to fund strategic water reserve passes Senate Conservation Committee

A bill that would appropriate $25 million for the state to acquire water rights to help meet interstate compact and endangered species requirements passed the Senate Conservation Committee on an 8-0 vote on Thursday. This comes after last year’s allocation of $15 million to the state strategic water reserve was fully spent, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerillos, said. That money helped the state secure a lease from Jicarilla Apache Nation for up to 20,000 acre feet of water in the San Juan River that was previously used for operations of the San Juan Generating Station. SB 167 is sponsored by Stefanics and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, as well as Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

Legislature considers $80 registration fees for electric vehicles

As more people adopt electric vehicles, the state Department of Transportation has voiced concerns that less money will be available to spend on road repairs. This is because the state’s tax on gasoline funds these repairs. SB 22, which is focused on tax credits for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, includes a registration fee for electric vehicles and for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. 

The bill proposes an $80 registration fee for electric vehicles and a $40 registration fee for plug-in hybrids. Seventy-seven percent of the proceeds from the fees would go to the state road fund and the remainder would go to the transportation project fund. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, who said that these rates are based on the amount that an average person drives in a year.

Bill expanding State Forestry Division’s ability to prevent fires passes committee

A bill that would expand the State Forester’s ability to improve forest health and address post-fire concerns passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 11-0 vote on Thursday. The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, and Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview. HB 195 would allow the State Forestry Division to conduct or contract for activities to prevent or suppress fires. It would also give the SFD the ability to “conserve forests and forest resources, maintain and improve forest health, conduct post-fire slope stabilization, erosion control, riparian restoration, seeding and reforestation of burned areas, research forestry and forest fires, conduct urban and community forestry, establish nurseries, and furnish forestry and forest fire-related technical assistance to New Mexicans, including through technical advice and projects related to the mitigation of or adaptation to conditions caused by climate change,” according to the fiscal impact report. Prior to discussions, Nibert introduced an amendment that would make it clear that the state could only go onto private property without permission in an emergency situation, such as if a fire was approaching and actions needed to be taken on private property.

Spring burn ban bill brought off table, amended version passes Senate committee

The Senate Conservation Committee passed a bill on Thursday on a 5-2 vote that would ban prescribed burns in the spring months when the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning. SB 21, sponsored by Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, initially was tabled by the committee. The committee made the rare decision to bring the bill off the table to be heard again after Griggs made some changes. The previous version would have completely banned prescribed burning in the spring. After Griggs submitted a committee substitute that limited the ban to days when there are red flag conditions, many of the opponents said they supported the bill or no longer opposed it.

Bill proposes tax credits for energy storage

A bill that would allow people to receive tax credits if they install battery storage systems on their homes or businesses was temporarily tabled on Wednesday by the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, though it could be included in a larger tax package later depending in part on the budget. 

The legislation—sponsored by Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe—previously passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 6-4 party-line vote. The tabling does not necessarily mean the bill is dead, as it often does in other committees. The House Taxation and Revenue Committee examines proposed tax credits and temporarily tables anything with a fiscal impact. Then, at the end of the session, the committee examines those proposed tax credits and creates a tax package based on what is in the budget. “If we passed everything out of here, teachers are not going to get paid because money is going to tax credits instead of paying their salaries,” Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, said during the committee meeting.

Bill to fund conservation programs passes committee

State Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, spoke on Tuesday about the impacts of wildfire and how the runoff can remain a problem even decades after a burn occurs. He said that it is important to create a fund to help with conservation efforts, including measures to improve forest health. Neville and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, are sponsoring Senate Bill 9, which would create an investment fund as well as a distribution fund to support conservation efforts in New Mexico. On the House side, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the legislation.