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.

Sen. Craig Brandt talks about Glory's Law during a press conference. Other speakers included, from left to right, Glory's mother Christy Sellers, UNM Head Football Coach Danny Gonzales and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales.

Law to ban discrimination against organ donor recipients has support

Three legislators filed a bill to prevent patients from being denied an organ donation due to mental or physical disability from happening in New Mexico, dubbed Glory’s Law. Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, Rep. Jenifer Jones, R-Deming, and Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque are the sponsors of  SB 71. Glory’s Law is named for Christy Sellers’ youngest daughter, Glory, who is almost completely deaf, has Down Syndrome and other issues affecting her heart and lungs. “I heard about a story in another state where a baby was denied a kidney transplant solely based on that child having Down Syndrome,” Sellers said at a press conference about Glory’s Law Thursday. “Right now, (New Mexico) doesn’t have any laws in place to protect people with disabilities should they need a transplant, they could be denied solely based on having Down Syndrome solely based on things that don’t affect their quality of life, or make them any less worthy.” 

Seller and her family have adopted three disabled children including Glory.

Bill to continue a cancer registry generates debate

A bill that will, if enacted, appropriate $500,000 from the general fund to the board of regents of the University of New Mexico to support the operational infrastructure for the state’s human papillomavirus pap registry passed the House Health and Human Services Committee by 6 to 2 on Friday. The one-page bill, HB 136, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, faced debate by some Republicans who sit on that committee on Friday morning. The registry monitors cervical cancer prevention in the state and asks for funds every year from the Legislature. The money is for operational funding to support the registry. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

Solar requirement for new schools passes first committee

A bill that would require new schools that receive grant assistance from the state’s capital outlay funds for construction to be built with enough solar power capacity to provide the majority of the school’s power needs passed the Senate Education Committee on a 4-2 vote on Friday and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. Senate Bill 60 is sponsored by Sen. Bill Soules, R-Las Cruces. 

Upon Soules’ request, the bill was amended to specify that it doesn’t apply to schools that are already planned and fully designed. Instead, should it pass, it would only apply to new schools that are being designed after July 1. Later, based on concerns the Hobbs School District superintendent had about the size and space requirements of a solar array to fully power the school, the bill was amended so that, instead of requiring a solar array capable of providing all of the electricity, it would only need to provide at least 51 percent of the energy needs. Soules said, by providing electricity on site, the operational costs of powering the schools will reduce and that more money can be spent in the classrooms.

“As we move to more renewable energy, this just makes our schools more sustainable,” he said.

As Water Trust Fund dries up, Wirth champions bill to infuse it with $250M

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A state fund that has helped finance dozens of water infrastructure projects around New Mexico since it was created nearly two decades ago is drying up. The State Investment Council has been sounding the alarm for years, warning the so-called Water Trust Fund, which it manages, could be depleted within 15 years without an additional infusion of capital or a restructuring of its distribution requirements of $4 million a year. “This fund is on a terminal path,” Charles Wollmann, the council’s director of communications, legislative and client relations, said Thursday. “It is going to die unless there are additional appropriations or it would have to slash its annual distribution.” A windfall to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars may be on the way.

State Legacy Fund would help draw federal dollars to conservation programs

By Scott Wyland, The Santa Fe New Mexican

At least a billion dollars in federal conservation money is available to aid New Mexico in everything from restoring watersheds and protecting imperiled species to helping ecosystems better withstand climate change. The state is missing out on most of it because it lacks matching funds. Some state leaders, environmental groups and businesses hope the Legislature will approve a $75 million fund to draw federal money to a medley of state conservation programs among a half-dozen agencies. A bipartisan bill to establish the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is expected to be introduced this week — not to be mistaken with the proposed $50 million bond with a similar name that stalled in the Legislature last year. “Our goal in coming together is to ensure that these programs have a dedicated funding stream at the state level so that they can leverage literally billions of dollars that are available at the federal level that New Mexico isn’t taking full advantage of,” Brittany Fallon, senior policy manager for lands at Western Resource Advocates, said during an online conference.

Expansion of prohibition of storage of radioactive waste bill heads to judiciary committee

A bill that would expand the current prohibition on storing radioactive waste in New Mexico passed its first committee—the Senate Conservation Committee—on Tuesday on a 6-1 vote. Under the proposal, companies like Holtec International would not be able to store radioactive waste from activities like nuclear power generation without first receiving consent from the state and without having a permanent repository for nuclear waste operational

The bill, SB 53, also expands the state’s radioactive waste consultation task force membership to include the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; the secretary of the Department of Indian Affairs and the commissioner of public lands. 

The task force, in the past, has been limited to dealing with federal facilities. The proposed bill would expand that to include private facilities as well. This comes in light of plans to move nuclear waste, including spent fuel, from power plants across the United States to a facility near Carlsbad. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and Reps.

Funding to support rebuilding after fire passes committee while spring burn ban dies

With questions remaining surrounding allocation of federal assistance, the communities impacted by the largest wildfire in state history are asking the legislature for $100 million to replace and repair infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the blaze. This funding would come in the form of zero-interest reimbursable loans. Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, and Reps. Ambrose Castellano, D-Las Vegas, and Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, are sponsoring SB 6 to provide that funding to the impacted communities. The bill received unanimous support from the Senate Conservation Committee and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

Bill to classify natural gas as renewable dies in first committee

A Republican-sponsored bill attempting to get combined cycle natural gas included in the definition of renewable energy died in its first committee on Tuesday. The bill’s lead sponsor was Rep. James Townsend of Artesia, a retired executive from a fossil fuel company. Townsend said that House Bill 96 attempted to fix a problem that is “readily apparent in New Mexico.” That problem, he said, is rolling brownouts and blackouts related to a shortage of electricity. Other sponsors include Rep. Randall Pettigrew of Lovington, Rep. Candy Spence Ezell of Roswell and Rep. Jimmy Mason of Artesia. The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted on party lines to table the bill.  

“Natural gas is not a renewable, but it works,” Townsend said in response to questions about the Energy Transition Act, which was not among the laws that would be amended to include combined cycle natural gas.

Legislation to help water utilities form regional partnerships advances

A bill that would allow two or more water or wastewater utilities to enter into an agreement to form a regional water authority passed the Senate Conservation Committee on a bipartisan 7-0 vote Tuesday morning. 

Democrats Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerillos and Rep. Susan Herrera of Embudo sponsored the bill. Current law requires legislative approval for water utilities to become regional authorities. Wirth said this legislation will not force utilities to enter into regional partnerships, but will make it easier for those that wish to do so. Wirth spoke about a small mutual domestic system with about 25 customers that ran out of water and is now seeking to regionalize. 

He said drilling wells is not an option for the system because it is cost-prohibitive. A regional water utility authority can help by joining efforts to pursue water resources.