New Mexico congressional delegation seeking approval for state’s constitutional amendment

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich announced bicameral legislation last week to seek federal approval for the state’s proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would tap an additional 1.25 percent from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbuy, both Democrats, introduced the legislation. U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján and U.S. House of Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, also both Democrats, are co-sponsors of the legislation. If both Congress and New Mexico voters approve the proposal, which will likely land on the ballot next fall, the state will appropriate the additional 1.25 percent annually from the fund to increase teacher salaries for K-12 public education and to establish new funding for early childhood education. If the U.S. Congress provides its consent to the New Mexico Education Enhancement Act, the proposal will then go before voters, likely in November 2022, to decide.

Build Back Better Act passes U.S. House of Representatives

Legislation that includes dozens of provisions to address climate change is one step closer to the president’s desk following a near-party-line vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday morning. The Build Back Better Act would provide funding to support working families, increase access to home ownership and address the climate crisis through increasing renewable energy and addressing emissions from the oil and gas sector. “I think it is not only the largest investment but the most comprehensive investment that we’ve ever seen in tackling climate change in our country’s history,” said U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat from New Mexico, in a press conference after the bill’s passage. Stansbury said the bill includes dozens of provisions targeted at addressing climate change “across every sector of our society and every community within the United States and our affiliated territories and communities all over the world.”

Stansbury said all the sectors that emit greenhouse gases contribute to climate change, including the transportation, energy and electricity sectors.  “And this bill really takes a comprehensive approach to addressing that across every sector,” she said.

Heinrich, Lujan seek wild and scenic river designation for the Gila

In the face of climate change and a history of proposals to dam or divert water from the Gila River, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, Democrats from New Mexico, have introduced legislation that would designate a section of the Gila River in New Mexico as a wild and scenic river. This legislation bears the name of M.H. Dutch Salmon, who advocated for the protection of the Gila River. The Wild and Scenic River Act, which passed in 1968, helps protect free-flowing rivers by prohibiting the use of federal funds to support projects like dams or diversions that would harm the free-flowing condition or the water quality. The legislation introduced by Heinrich and Lujan would protect 446 miles of river segments in New Mexico under that law. Those river segments include portions of the Gila and San Francisco rivers as well as a part of the east fork of the Mimbres River.

New Mexico Democrats in Congress sign onto amicus brief supporting Roe v. Wade

The New Mexico Democratic Congressional delegation signed onto an amicus brief urging  the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade in the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That case will be heard December 1. But the court has traditionally made its ruling on abortion cases at the end of the term in late June or early July. The state of Mississippi, in its case against the sole clinic that provides abortions in that state, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade. Mississippi lawmakers passed an unconstitutional law in 2018 making abortion at 15 weeks gestation illegal in that state.

Heinrich, Blunt introduce legislation to fund wildlife conservation

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich described wildlife conservation as a topic that can bring people together—something that he said is highlighted by a bipartisan Senate bill.. “Whether you grew up in New Mexico or you grew up in Missouri, you remember the first fish you ever catch, you remember the butterflies in your backyard,” Heinrich said during a press conference announcing the legislation. He added that these species are not as common as they once were. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which Heinrich is introducing along with Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, would provide $1.3 billion annually in funding to states and $97.5 million to tribes to implement projects identified in the wildlife action plans that will help keep species off of the endangered species list and recover those that are already on the list. The sponsors and proponents described it as the “largest and most significant investment in wildlife and habitat conservation in half a century.”

The projects are guided primarily by the state wildlife action plans and Heinrich said he views this as a way to solve problems that have been identified rather than a tool to research the causes of the decline in biodiversity.

How a federal abortion bill could impact New Mexico

This week members of Congress introduced legislation into both chambers that would codify Roe v. Wade into law if it passes. HR 3755, more commonly known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, would protect a person’s ability to terminate a pregnancy and would protect a provider’s ability to provide abortion services. Reproductive healthcare advocates believe the bill, which has been introduced by members of Congress, has greater urgency this year because of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi case the U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear next year. Related: The future of reproductive healthcare in NM if Roe v. Wade is overturned

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Mississippi’s unconstitutional 15-week abortion gestational ban, will be the first test of Roe v. Wade with the new 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court bench. Many in the reproductive healthcare community believe Roe v. Wade could be overturned or become a law in name only as a result. The Supreme Court is expected to decide on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022.

Heinrich to introduce legislation to provide a ‘glide path’ for energy producing states

Sen. Martin Heinrich announced Thursday plans to introduce legislation that would help areas that depend on revenue from fossil fuels maintain balanced government and education budgets as the country moves toward a clean energy economy. Known as the Schools and State Budgets Certainty Act, the bill would provide funding to offset the loss of revenue if money from fossil fuel extraction drops. The bill would create a baseline minimal revenue for governments based on the historical average revenue the governments received from federal minerals. If the revenue drops below the baseline, the governments would receive an energy transition payment to offset that loss. These payments will be made to eligible states, counties and tribes and would provide some budget certainty during the transition away from fossil fuels.

Heinrich touts transmission, agriculture and hydrogen as ways to address the climate crisis

Sen. Martin Heinrich said this week reinstating methane regulations that former President Donald Trump rolled back will buy time to take the next steps to addressing the climate crisis. 

The Senate approved revoking the rollback of the methane regulations about a week ago and the House of Representatives, where the Democrats have the majority, will consider the measure this month. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

Looking forward, Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, said a federal infrastructure package should have robust investments in things like transmission, which is needed to move renewable energy from one area to another. “More and more of our economy is going to be run off of electricity as opposed to combustion,” he said. “That means we have to be able to move electrons from where we have renewable energy to where that energy is consumed. We don’t have enough transmission to do that today.”

Heinrich met with NM Political Report while in Aztec, where he presented a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol to the San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas for efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to restore methane regulations that were instituted under President Barack Obama and rolled back under President Donald Trump. The Senate used the Congressional Review Act to push for the repeal of Trump’s rollbacks of the Environmental Protection Agency methane reduction rule. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the authority to undo agency actions that were taken within the last months of the previous administration. The House of Representatives, which has a Democratic majority, is expected to vote on the measure next month. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, was one of the leaders of the effort and a companion resolution along with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Officials say plugging orphaned wells protects public health and environment

At the end of their useful life, every oil and gas well must be plugged to prevent future contamination as the infrastructure ages and to return the site back to its original state. For the most part, this is done by the operator. However, sometimes bankruptcies lead to wells becoming orphaned, meaning there is no operator to plug them. 

Officials say these wells tend to not have had great maintenance and cleaning them up is important to protect both the environment and the health of nearby communities. Democratic Senator Ben Ray Luján says he plans to introduce legislation to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells. This comes as President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for spending $16 billion to plug abandoned wells and mines.