New Mexico lawmakers and the governor have made it clear that pulling the state out of the COVID-19 morass and dealing with the attendant budget shortfalls are the top priority for the legislative session that began last week. But that hasn't stopped legislators, all of them Democrats, from proposing some important energy- and climate-related bills.
Here is our roundup:
HB 106, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics (D-Cerrillos), Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque), Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), and Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D-Las Cruces). The Senate version is captioned as SB 84.
Community solar is back for what is, by our count, the eighth time.
The sponsors have incorporated the findings of a community solar working group convened by the Legislature last session and offer a fresh take on a bill that would allow for small solar projects that are communally owned by individuals or organizations who either purchase a share of the project outright or pay a monthly subscription fee.
The legislation is designed to make the benefits of investing in renewable energy available for "those individuals who don't necessarily own their own homes, who are renters" or who cannot afford rooftop solar on their properties, Roybal Caballero told colleagues in December. "It's about equity and equal access."
SB 58, Electric Vehicle Charging Unit Credit
An electric vehicle income tax credit has been a long time coming in New Mexico after having been introduced in multiple previous sessions but never making it into law. The Electric Vehicle Charging Unit Credit, introduced this session by Sen. Bill Tallman (D-Albuquerque), has a misleading title—while it does include a $300 tax credit for installing a charging station at home, the most important part of this bill is an income tax credit for purchasing or leasing an electric vehicle.
New Mexicans making over $50,000 a year would get a $2,500 tax credit. Single New Mexicans making under $50,000 or married people making under $37,500 would get a $5,000 tax credit.
SB 11, Clean Fuel Standard Act, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque).
Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico after the oil and gas industry. Sen. Stewart's Clean Fuel Standard Act would try to chip away at transportation related emissions by requiring fuel producers and importers to reduce the amount of carbon in fuels used in New Mexico by 20% in the next 20 years. Companies that aren't able to produce lower carbon fuels could make up for it by purchasing carbon credits from any other New Mexico industry.
The act is part of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's policy agenda for the session. According to a news release from the New Mexico Environment Department, "the in-state production of low-carbon fuels could see significant job growth in New Mexico and $47 million in carbon-reduction investments if a CFS program is implemented."
Moving Towards a Sustainable Economy
SB 112, Sustainable Economy Task Force, also introduced by Stewart, calls for the creation of a sustainable economy task force that would come up with a plan for moving the state away from its reliance on natural resource extraction and fossil fuels and create a report on how the state could end its severe reliance on fossil fuels.
New Mexico Green Amendment
Environmental advocates are pushing for a "green amendment" to the state constitution that would add equal access to clean air, water and soil as one of the fundamental rights of all New Mexicans. A constitutional change might have a far broader reach than any single piece of legislation because it could be applied in court to every aspect of government and could, for example, force lawmakers to fully fund protective programs such as those administered by the Environment Department. Pennsylvania and Montana are the only two other states that have a law like this on the books.
Produced Water Regulations
SB 86, Use of Water for Oil and Gas Operations
The process for fracking involves pumping water deep into the earth at incredibly high pressures in order to break up the shale and rock and release the fossil fuel. This water then returns to the surface contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic substances.
Sen. Stefanics and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Albuquerque) have introduced a bill that would stop oil and gas producers from unnecessarily wasting and polluting New Mexico's fresh water resources. It would require producers to reuse wastewater when drilling at depths that are lower than fresh water zones, and create penalties for produced water spills. The bill also asks the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to develop comprehensive produced water rules to protect public and environmental health.
Environmental Database Available to All
HB 51, Environmental Database Act
Several groups are pushing for the state to adopt a comprehensive database that would provide environmental data from all departments in one place and make it easily accessible to the public. Anyone could search a specific area and find rights of way, mining and mineral permits, toxic waste sites, water resources, endangered species and more. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque), Sen. Stewart, and Rep. Georgene Louis (D-Albuquerque).
Editor's note: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the uses of freshwater that would be permitted for oil and gas production under SB 86.