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Fixing the state budget will be the New Mexico Legislature's top priority in the session starting next Tuesday—that's a constitutional obligation—but in the moments in between the talk of taxes and furloughs, interest groups can hope to squeeze their agendas in.
With a 30-day legislative session and daunting fiscal problems, though, pragmatism is the name of the game. The Environmental Alliance of New Mexico, an informal coalition of several environmental groups, has compressed its varied goals into three legislative priorities, which leaders voiced today in a telepress call. Here's a quick description of what's on the table for New Mexico's environment in 2010.
1) Depradation Reform
In all seriousness, depradation reform basically means amending the statutes that govern when it's OK to kill wildlife for trespassing and when it's not. According to R.J. Kirkpatrick, the assistant director for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the new bill, sponsored by Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo, "focuses on cultivated crops and four ungulates: deer, elk, antelope and oryx." Landowners whose crops are being damaged by any of those animals have two options: they can obtain fencing materials from Game & Fish, or they can agree to let the wildlife roam about on their land and enter into "some kind of a cost-share" with Game & Fish to cover the damages and provide improvements (seeds, water, fences, etc.). Of course, Kirkpatrick says, Game & Fish will continue to respond to calls for assistance with other varmints. Like gophers.
2) Green Building
"The state's [tight] budget amplifies the legislative responsibility to invest wisely" in more efficient building standards, Dan Lorimier, conservation coordinator and lobbyist for the Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter, says. "This bill guarantees that buildings will be designed to use half or less than half the energy of a conventional building," Lorimier adds. The bill, he says, also requires that new and refurbished public buildings meet the EPA's Energy Star certification requirements so they "will not be saddling the communities they're in with 30 to 40 years of high energy costs."
3) Stopping Rollbacks
"We're definitely going to work hard to defend against any efforts to remove oversight," Molly Brook of Conservation Voters of New Mexico told the telepress attendees. But when asked by a reporter whether any specific rollbacks were planned, Brook demurred. One that comes to mind is the recent flap over the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission's 2008 Pit Rule, which upped the ante for oil and gas producers looking to get rid of toxic waste materials by requiring stiffer disposal regulations. There have been whispers about repealing the Pit Rule—industry lobbyists occasionally blame it for their declining revenues (imagine losing money in a recession!)—but an op-ed in last week's Journal by former Environment Secretary Joanna Prukop urges against such action.