Renewable energy bills on tap for the 2021 session

The Legislature will be considering a handful of renewable energy-related legislation in the upcoming session. Here are some of the bills we’ll be watching. 

Clean fuel standard: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that a clean fuel standard is one of her legislative priorities for the upcoming 60-day session. The fuel standard would only apply to the producers of fuel, not retailers such as gas stations. The fuel standard would reduce the state’s transportation emissions by 230,000 metric tons of CO2 annually, the governor said in a press release. 

Local Choice Energy Act: Las Cruces Democratic state Senator Jeff Steinborn prefiled a bill that would enable communities to source their own electricity providers. Steinborn, who introduced similar legislation in 2019, said the bill would inject more competition into electricity markets. 

“The reason for it is, it’s just good old-fashioned free market,” Steinborn said.

Environmental bills coming in the 2021 legislative session

With just one week away from the 2021 session, state legislators have prefiled over 120 bills. Here’s a glimpse of some of the environment-focused bills we’ll be watching. 

The Green Amendment: State Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque and Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, are proposing an amendment to the New Mexico state constitution to protect the state’s natural resources. Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces is introducing the bill in the House. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would provide residents of New Mexico with environmental rights, including a right to a clean and healthy environment and a right to the preservation of the environment. The amendment would also direct the state to protect environmental resources for the benefit of all the people. Ferrary told NM Political Report the resolution is “part of the Green Amendment movement that’s going on around the country.” The Green Amendment refers to a movement among state governments to enact protections for the environment within state constitutions.

Guv quietly looks to expand export markets for natural gas

In July 2020, Gov.  Michelle Lujan Grisham signed onto a letter of support for a natural gas export facility being proposed in Baja California, Mexico. The letter, which was addressed to Mexico’s Energy Secretary Nahle Garcia, touted the facility as a potential “major North American west coast energy export hub” of natural gas to Asian Markets. 

“Energy demand is soaring in Asia, led by China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India due to manufacturing and economic growth,” the letter reads. “All of these countries are using natural gas as a way to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions.”

The letter was signed by two other governors and the chairman of the Ute tribe in Colorado, on behalf of the Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative (WSTN). New Mexico joined the group in late 2019, with little media attention, when the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with WSTN. A few months after sending the letter, the facility was approved by Mexico’s regulators and Baja California joined WTSN.

WPX settles with family over produced water spill

Penny Aucoin and her husband Carl George reached a settlement with the oil company WPX Energy over a pipe burst in early 2020 that drenched the family’s yard, pets and livestock with produced water. 

In January 2020, Aucoin and George were awoken early one morning by the sound of a loud pop and gushing water. When the pair went outside to investigate, they discovered that a pipeline across the street that transports produced water from an oil pad to a saltwater disposal well had burst, spewing the toxic fluid into the sky and across the street where the family’s home is located. 

RELATED: ‘It was raining on us’: Family awoken by produced water pipe burst near Carlsbad

Aucoin, who lives just outside of Carlsband, previously told NM Political Report the wastewater poured from the pipe for an hour before the operator was able to shut it off. The fluid drenched her pets and livestock and saturated the soil of the yard. In the aftermath, Aucoin said she was forced to euthanize 18 chickens and one dog, and give up her remaining goat. She said a county official told her she couldn’t eat her chicken eggs, couldn’t eat their meat, and said she probably shouldn’t eat anything grown on her property, either.

Bill would halt new fracking permits while state conducts impact studies

State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, plans to introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session that would enact a four-year pause on fracking permits while studies are conducted to determine the impacts of fracking on agriculture, environment and water resources and public health. 

The bill directs state agencies and departments, including the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the New Mexico Environment Department, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture to study and report annually to the governor and the relevant legislative committees on the impacts of fracking on the respective sectors. 

“It’s not a moratorium on fracking or banning fracking altogether. It is simply a pause on issuing new permits for four years,” Sedillo Lopez told NM Political Report. 

“The bill requires agencies to study the issue of fracking, and to give recommendations to the legislature for legislation and rules that would be appropriate to deal with the consequences of fracking on our air, our land, our water, and our health,” she said. 

The 2021 session will be the third time state legislators will consider the bill, which failed to get on the call during the last 30-day session in January 2020. In even-numbered years, only budget bills and bills on topics chosen by the governor can be discussed by the Legislature. The 2021 version of the bill hasn’t been prefiled. 

RELATED: State environmental regulators face thinner budgets amid pandemic and oil slump

In past legislative sessions, the bill has received pushback from Republicans and legislators representing districts in the state’s two energy-producing zones. A fiscal impact report on the bill from 2019 estimated the state would lose $3.5 billion by halting new fracking permits for four years, but an updated analysis is needed to better predict the possible fiscal implications moving forward. 

Sedillo Lopez said that the bill has support among many environmental groups and concerned residents, but added that she was surprised at the opposition it has received among other groups. 

“The reaction was actually stunning.

2020 Top Stories #2: State budget impacts of pandemic, oil bust

State legislators finished the 2020 legislative session with a $7.6 billion budget in February that expanded spending 7.5 percent across the state’s departments, with more than 45 percent of all new recurring expenditures going toward what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the “education continuum,” from early childhood programs to higher education. 

Then the pandemic hit in March, which brought the state’s economy to a grinding halt. And in April, a price war between Russia and Saudia Arabia drove the price of oil into negative territory for the first time ever. 

In May, a group of state economists from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) warned that recurring revenues for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) could decline between $370 million to $480 million below forecasts from the previous year. That meant the state wouldn’t have enough money to cover FY20’s spending, the economists said. 

DOH reports 609 new COVID-19 cases and 9 deaths

The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) reported on Saturday 609 cases and nine related deaths. 

Bernalillo County had 125 new cases and was the only county that had more than 100 new cases. Only two counties had more than 50 new cases: Doña Ana County (74) and San Juan County (78). 

DOH has confirmed a total of 137,226 cases of the disease since the beginning of the pandemic and a total of 2,316 deaths. 

DOH provided some information on each of the nine newly reported deaths:

A female in her 70s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Tercer Cielo facility in Albuquerque.A female in her 80s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Casa Sandia facility in Albuquerque.A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized.A second male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Casa Sandia facility in Albuquerque.A female in her 90s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Care Free Assisted Living facility in Albuquerque.A second female in her 90s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized, had underlying conditions who was a resident of the Montebello on Academy facility in Albuquerque.A male in his 90s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the BeeHive Homes San Pedro facility in Albuquerque.A female in her 80s from Chaves County who was a resident of the Sunset Villa Care Center in Roswell.A male in his 90s from Sierra County who was hospitalized, had underlying conditions and was a resident of the New Mexico State Veterans Home in Truth or Consequences. DOH does not disclose which underlying condition any of the deceased had, only if one was present before death. The most common underlying condition for those who died with COVID-19 was hypertension, followed by diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to the most recently available mortality update. Some of those who died had multiple comorbidities.

State reports 1,465 new COVID-19 cases and 36 deaths

State health officials reported 1,465 new cases of COVID-19 on Christmas Day Friday. The state has now identified 136,622 cases of the disease since the start of the pandemic in March. 

Bernalillo County had the most new cases, with 428. Three other counties had more than 100 new cases: San Juan County (167), Doña Ana County (145) and Chaves County (108). The state also reported 2 new cases among inmates held by the New Mexico Corrections Department across two facilities. 

The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) also reported 36 deaths related to the illness. A total of 2,307 have died with COVID-19 since March. 

DOH provided some information on each of the newly reported deaths:

A female in her 50s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 50s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized.A female in her 60s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A second female in her 60s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Sandia Ridge Center in Albuquerque.A male in his 60s from Bernalillo County.A second male in his 60s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized, had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Good Samaritan Society – Manzano del Sol Village in Albuquerque.A female in her 80s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Life Spire Assisted Living facility in Albuquerque.A second female in her 80s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Sandia Ridge Center in Albuquerque.A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Life Spire Assisted Living facility in Albuquerque.A female in her 90s from Bernalillo County.A second female in her 90s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions.A male in his 90s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 50s from Chaves County who was hospitalized.A female in her 80s from Chaves County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 90s from Chaves County who was a resident of the Sunset Villa Care Center in Roswell.A female in her 80s from Cibola County who was a resident of the Good Samaritan Society facility in Grants.A female in her 50s from Curry County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from Curry County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 80s from Doña Ana County who was hospitalized.A male in his 70s from Grant County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Grant County who had underlying conditions.A female in her 80s from Lea County who was a resident of the Lovington Healthcare facility in Lovington.A male in his 50s from McKinley County who had underlying conditions.A female in her 60s from McKinley County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A second female in her 60s from McKinley County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 90s from McKinley County who was hospitalized.A male in his 80s from Otero County who had underlying conditions.A female in her 40s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 60s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized.A male in his 60s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 90s from Sierra County who was hospitalized, had underlying conditions and was a resident of the New Mexico State Veterans Home in Truth or Consequences.A male in his 70s from Socorro County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from Valencia County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 80s from Valencia County who was hospitalized, had underlying conditions and was a patient at the Sandia Ridge Center in Albuquerque.

DOH reports 1,927 new COVID cases, 29 deaths

The New Mexico Department of Health reported 1,927 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 29 related deaths. 

Bernalillo County had the most new cases with 487. DOH reported 293 in Chaves County, 259 cases in Doña Ana County, 133 cases in San Juan County and 101 cases in Sandoval. DOH also identified 11 cases among inmates held by the New Mexico Corrections Department at various facilities across the state. 

The state has now recorded 135,166 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in March, while a total of 2,272 individuals have died. 

DOH provided some information on each of the 29 newly reported deaths:

A female in her 60s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Care Free Assisted Living facility in Albuquerque.A female in her 70s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 80s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Watermark at Cherry Hills facility in Albuquerque.A second female in her 80s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized, had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Ladera Center facility in Albuquerque.A third female in her 80s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 90s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Life Spire Assisted Living facility in Albuquerque.A male in his 60s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A second male in his 60s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Rio at Las Estancias facility in Albuquerque.A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Good Samaritan Society – Manzano del Sol Village facility  in Albuquerque.A second male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Skies Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Albuquerque.A third male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Princeton Place facility in Albuquerque.A male in his 90s from Bernalillo County who was a resident of the Watermark at Cherry Hills facility in Albuquerque.A female in her 60s from Chaves County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. A female in her 90s from Cibola County who was a resident of the Laguna Rainbow Care Center in Casa Blanca.A male in his 70s from Cibola County who was hospitalized.A female in her 70s from Colfax County who was hospitalized. A male in his 80s from Doña Ana County who was a resident of the Village at Northrise facility in Las Cruces.A female in her 80s from Lea County who was a resident of the Lovington Healthcare facility in Lovington.A male in his 70s from Lea County who was a resident of the Lovington Healthcare facility in Lovington.A female in her 80s from Roosevelt County who was hospitalized. A female in her 70s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 60s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in 80s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 80s from Santa Fe County who was a resident of the Vista Hermosa facility in Santa Fe.A male in his 80s from Sierra County who was a resident of the New Mexico State Veterans Home in Truth or Consequences.A male in his 90s from Sierra County who was a resident of the New Mexico State Veterans Home in Truth or Consequences.A female in his 60s from Valencia County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Valencia County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Belen Meadows Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Belen. DOH does not disclose which underlying condition any of the deceased had, only if one was present before death. The most common underlying condition for those who died with COVID-19 was hypertension, followed by diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to the most recently available mortality update.

‘We’ve got a waste issue’: Groups press state for stricter methane rules despite budget concerns

Dave Rogers is a reverend in Carlsbad and founder of the group Citizens Caring For the Future. The group started, he said, out of concern in the community about the environmental and health impacts of oil and gas development that was booming in the New Mexico side of the Permian Basin—until the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil market downturn brought production to a near halt in 2020. 

“[We] began to realize we could not continue just allowing this to happen. We were concerned for our health, for our land, for our environment, for our planet,” Rogers said during a recent webinar on methane emissions in the state. The group now advocates for “reasonable, responsible regulation and credible enforcement,” Rogers said, “because none of those things exist in the Permian Basin right now.”

Right now, his group is focusing on making sure the new methane and emissions rules being developed by the state’s two regulating bodies are stringent enough to curb the state’s exploding methane emissions. Some state legislators have recently floated the idea of delaying implementing any new emissions-focused regulations on oil and gas companies until the industry—and the state’s budget—has recovered from the downturn.