A House joint resolution that would allow voters to decide whether to amend the New Mexico constitution’s Bill of Rights section to include environmental rights received a do pass recommendation on Saturday from the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
This came after it failed on a 5-5 vote the previous week. After a committee substitute was introduced on Saturday, the measure received a party-line 6-4 do pass recommendation. Committee chairman, Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, voted against the measure last week and in favor of the committee substitute on Saturday.
Known colloquially as the green amendment, HJR 2 is sponsored by Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, as well as Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Harold Pope, D-Albuquerque.
Ferrary said the committee substitute “removes the language providing that the people of the state shall be entitled to flora and fauna and to the protection of the natural, cultural, scenic and healthful qualities of the environment.”
She said that those provisions are included in the language stating that New Mexicans are entitled to a clean environment and self-sustaining ecosystems.
Sedillo Lopez said the natural, cultural, scenic and healthful qualities language was included in the original legislation with places like Chaco Culture National Historical Park in mind. However, she said McQueen previously pointed out that protecting the environment would still protect places like Chaco.
The phrase “inalienable rights” was also removed from the committee substitute, upon McQueen’s suggestion.
Sedillo Lopez said that the measure would allow people to bring suits against state or other government agencies that fail to consider the environmental impacts of a project before issuing permits. These environmental impact considerations are based on state law and regulations, she said.
“Where you would see a court stepping in is in egregious horrible cases in which the state does not take into account environmental impacts of a decision they make…the cases involving green amendments in other states involve permits that are granted with no consideration of the environmental impact,” she said.
Republican committee members voted against the bill after voicing concerns about potential legal ramifications, including lawsuits that municipalities and counties could face.
A Pattern Energy lobbyist, during public comments, said a project the company planned in Montana ended after a lawsuit was brought by a landowner who lived in Texas but was concerned about the impacts a wind farm would have on his Montana property. Committee members referred to his comments throughout the discussion as an example of how the measure could impact both economic development and the transition to renewable energy.
Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, in explaining her vote in favor, said she does have some concerns about lawsuits, but the bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee where those can be addressed.
Shortly before the vote, McQueen clarified and corrected some of the statements committee members made earlier in the meeting. He said that the measure does not allow for individuals to be sued and there is no financial liability to the state or political subdivisions like municipalities and counties. He said there is the potential that attorney’s fees could be awarded as the result of a lawsuit brought under the green amendment.