We’re exactly half-way through the 60-day 2021 legislative session and its crunch-time for New Mexico legislators as they consider nearly 900 bills, with several big environmental initiatives among them. Here’s a quick rundown:

We really like good news so let’s start by celebrating some bi-partisan wins for the environment.

House Bill 57, the Prescribed Burning Act, would make it easier for private land-owners to conduct prescribed burns on their own property by clarifying liability issues and instructing the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s Forestry Division to develop prescribed burn training, a prescribed burn manager certification program and a statewide permitting system. The bill passed in the House of Representatives with a unanimous vote of 64-0. Read our coverage of the bill here.

House Bill 89, the Healthy Soil Tax Refund Contribution Option, also passed unanimously in the House on a 64-0 vote. This bill would allow taxpayers to donate their refunds to the state’s Healthy Soils Program that supports farming and ranching techniques that increase organic matter and carbon capture in the soil and improve water retention.

Two bills we are following, Senate Bill 11, the Clean Fuel Standard Act, and Senate Bill 84, the Community Solar Act, are on the agenda for the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Tuesday Feb. 23 starting at 1:30 pm. Both received do-pass recommendations from a previous committee and will go to the Senate floor next.

If you want to have a say in New Mexico’s current legislative session, there are a lot of bills to choose from including community solar, electric vehicle tax credits, a New Mexico green amendment, produced water regulation, and more. Read a brief overview of our faves here. Check out what else is on the agenda at nmlegis.gov. To track the bills you want to follow, go to Quick Links tab and scroll down until you hit MyRoundhouse. Make an account to easily keep track of bills and find out when/where they will be heard next and whether they passed each committee, the House and the Senate.

UPCOMING EVENTS:

Catholic Climate Covenant kicks off of new initiative to inspire action among young Catholics who are worried about climate change. If you love Jesus and the planet, this virtual meet and greet might be right up your alley.

Santa Fe Community College Library presents “Migrating Songbirds – Small and Mighty,” March 9 at 1pm.

Learn about the journeys of migrant birds across multiple continents and how climate change is impacting migration patterns. Register here by March 8.

The City Council will take public comments on proposed changes include upgrading streetlights to LEDs installing $15.5 million in new solar panels.

Keep reading for local environment reporting from SFR and others. If you love our environment newsletter, we’d love your help spreading the word! If you’ve got a story about something happening on the local environmental front that we should know about, write leah@sfreporter.com.


The Green Amendment: New Mexico, Part One

Green Amendments for the Generations Founder Maya van Rossum speaks with Senate sponsor Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and local environmental advocates in a video directed by journalist Steve Rogers.

From Around the Web:

Freak weather brought us a beautiful week of snow here in Santa Fe. Other places didn’t get so lucky. In Texas, record cold blizzard conditions caused a 100-car pile up near Dallas that killed at least six people and days of rolling blackouts left residents across the state without power, heat, or water. Misinformation blamed frozen wind turbines for the blackouts. While wind turbines did stop working, they produce only a fraction of the state’s energy and the frozen natural gas pipelines played a much larger role in the problem. Meanwhile, extreme winter weather is linked to climate change.

President Biden signed sweeping executive order to tackle climate change that directs the US to “begin the process of developing its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement” and create a climate finance plan to help developing countries reduce their carbon emissions, and directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2022, among many other things.

Biden also announced a new “Civilian Climate Corps Initiative” at the end of January after signing an executive order giving the heads of the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and others 90 days to come up with a plan for employing young people in conservation efforts.

In yet another executive order, Biden stopped all new federal sales of oil and gas leases on federal public lands for 60 days in order to assess their impact. California introduced bill to ban fracking from the state entirely by 2027. The New Mexico Senate Conservation committee voted 5-4 in favor of a bill that would pause new fracking permits in the state until 2025, despite concerns from some senators that the state’s economy relies too heavily on the oil and gas industry to take this drastic action. The industry accounts for 30% of the FY20 general fund revenue estimate.

Austrian ski resorts are planning for a future without snow, transitioning to hiking, climbing, biking, and other outdoor sports.

Regional News

Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell of Southern New Mexico was named as the Vice Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland will begin confirmation hearings for secretary of the Department of the Interior on Tuesday, Feb. 23. Earlier this month national Republican leadership raised opposition to Haaland’s confirmation because of her clashes with the oil and gas industry. If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary.

Anti-nuclear advocates are protesting the approval of a large-scale nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad that they say was rushed through during the pandemic in online meetings that did not give the public enough opportunities to raise concerns. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Navajo Nation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors and multiple state and national New Mexico representatives have opposed the facility.

Oil and gas prices shot back up, improving New Mexico’s economic outlook in the short run.

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney asked the Legislature for a $3.7 million increase in his department’s budget, saying the money will be critical for making sure that the department can continue basic duties such as workplace inspections and rapid responses to COVID-19. Budget recommendations by the Legislative Finance Committee would leave the allocation to the department unchanged from last year, even though the department’s current budget is 15% lower than it was a decade ago and in 2020 severe under-funding and vacancies meant the department was unable to perform some basic functions such as testing drinking water for asbestos and other contaminants.

SFR’s Environment News

Dark money group pushing PRC reform tied to major oil company

Exxon Mobil Corporation contributed to support a successful November referendum

Brighter Days Ahead

Equitable solar, electric vehicle charging and better street lights among highlights of Santa Fe’s 2021 sustainability plan

Oil and Gas Industry Decries Federal Lease Pause

But not everyone in the New Mexico is rankled by Joe Biden’s executive order

Bring on the Burn

As the Forest Service conducts a burn in Pacheco Canyon, local scientists and lawmakers plan for the future of prescribed fire

Unknown Impact

County asks Los Alamos National Labs to assess environmental impact before expanding nuclear production

Lawmaking for the Environment

Here are the environmental and clean energy bills to track this legislative session