SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico environmental advocates say the state took a step forward during the 2019 legislative session by passing bills that address renewable energy and public health, but is lagging in solar-energy development. Conservation Voters New Mexico has released its statewide Conservation Scorecard for the 2019 Legislature. Liliana Castillo, the group’s communications director, noted that shortly after taking office, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham focused on climate change. Castillo said she believes the executive order to place limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel drilling is in line with residents’ priorities. “New Mexicans across the board really care about protecting our air, land and water and diversifying our economy – the things that people talk about are the most important things, right?
Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a sweeping bill that bumps the state’s use of renewable energy. The new law sets a standard to produce 50 percent of the state’s energy through renewable sources in the next ten years and 80 percent within the next 20 years. Beyond the push for more renewable energy, the law also allows the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) to issue bonds at lower interest rates to pay off debts associated with a coal powered plant in the northwest corner of the state. It also establishes a $20 million fund to help workers and communities that will be affected by the shutdown of the San Juan Generating Station. In the Roundhouse rotunda, where Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 489, lawmakers and advocates said the governor was relentless in getting the bill passed through the Legislature with as few changes as possible.
Backers of the controversial Energy Transition Act — which is meant to ensure the shuttering of a massive coal-burning power plant in San Juan County and push New Mexico toward more reliance on renewable energy — won a victory Saturday when a state Senate committee gave it a positive recommendation following a four-hour debate. The Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-3 to give Senate Bill 489 a “do-pass” recommendation. Last year, the same committee killed a similar proposal. “This transition to renewable energy will not be easy,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque. A major purpose of the legislation, he said, is “to lay out a just transition for impacted communities to move away from coal and towards a green energy economy.”
Some vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez are raising eyebrows among legislators and others—and at least one partial veto may be challenged in court. Wednesday was the final day for Martinez to decide whether or not to sign bills from this year’s legislative session. She signed 80 bills into law, but vetoed 31 others. Some she rejected using her veto pen, while with others she just allowed time to run out in what is called a “pocket veto.”
One portion of a bill that may see a new life was part of the crime omnibus bill the Legislature passed in response to the spike in crime, particularly in Albuquerque. The bill combined a number of ideas aimed at reducing crimes.
A bill aimed at easing economic woes of New Mexico communities hit by the closing of large power plants might make it harder to shut down coal-burning operations, some environmentalists said Friday. House Bill 325, introduced this week by House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, would require the state Public Regulation Commission to consider the economic effects on communities when deciding cases involving the shuttering of large power sources such as the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico. The bill — which is scheduled to be heard Saturday by the House Judiciary Committee — also would require a utility to build any replacement power source in the same community as the facility it plans to close. “My bill is about trying to help my community,” Montoya said Friday. He said that about 45 percent of local tax revenue used by the school district in Kirtland comes from the power plant, while another 8 percent comes from the nearby San Juan coal mine.
The Senate Education Committee has unanimously tabled a bill that would have established a new endowment for early childhood programs in the state using revenues from federal mineral rights leases on public lands — assuming Congress approved a proposal by State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn to share the funding. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, asked the committee to table the measure Wednesday, saying, “It is clear to me now … that the bill suffers from problems in its construction.” In conversations with legislators, educators, Dunn and others, she said, she discovered “this entire approach has little support from the public.” Opponents of Senate Bill 182, including the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said one of its faults is that it assumes the federal government would agree to share proceeds with the state from leasing 6.6 million acres of mineral rights on private land.
According to a poll conducted on the eve of the election by Latino Decisions, more than 70 percent of Latina/o/x voters in New Mexico, and throughout the country, consider it urgent that the next President and Congress take immediate action to combat air and water pollution, as well as address the negative effects of climate change. And this is also true of the community organizing led by Latina/o/x mothers and youth from Albuquerque’s International District, South Valley and Westgate. We want our decision makers to act for clean air and healthy families and communities. We also support continued and community-led advancement toward a green economy (a low-carbon, socially responsible economy where natural resources are used efficiently) that brings good-paying jobs and economic growth to the Southwest and to our country. We can create such an economy that works for all New Mexicans if we put strong families, a healthy environment and a stable economy first.
Santa Fe is about to become the most powerful city in the Legislature. Presumptive House Speaker Brian Egolf and new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth both are Santa Fe Democrats, Anglo lawyers from the city’s east side. When Wirth was elected to the Senate in 2008, Egolf was elected to represent Wirth’s old district in the House of Representatives. Both have strong liberal voting records and both have chaired the committees that deal with the environment and energy in their respective chambers. Conservation Voters New Mexico, which for years has maintained scorecards for lawmakers, gives Egolf a 98 percent lifetime rating.
New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands is slated to speak Friday with a group of conservative-minded state lawmakers in Washington D.C. about his proposal to transfer federal mineral rights on private lands to the state. Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn is also planning to meet with members of Congress in order to urge them to approve the transfer, according to spokeswoman Emily Strickler. In an email to NM Political Report, Strickler said Dunn is promoting his Early Childhood Education Land Grant Act to state lawmakers at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) policy summit. Related: BLM finalizes rule to limit methane emissions
“The group Commissioner is presenting to at ALEC would not be voting on this legislation, but may be interested in using the legislation as a model for legislation in their states,” Strickler wrote. “Also, Commissioner will be meeting with New Mexico’s congressional delegation while in D.C. to discuss this legislation because it needs congressional approval.”
ALEC members use model legislation to spread laws throughout states, with the most high-profile example perhaps the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that are in place in several states.
A conservation group that makes endorsements each election cycle says one candidate is claiming an endorsement she did not receive. Conservation Voters New Mexico and the related Conservation Voters New Mexico Action Fund did not make an endorsement in the Democratic primary in House District 21—however, the group did deem two candidates “conservation qualified.” When the group finds two candidates are qualified in a certain race, it does not endorse. This is new, an email from CVNM’s Liliana Castillo said. “Historically, CVNM has simply not endorsed in those races.