Happy Spring!

We are so excited that it is warm and beautiful out, the birds are singing, and (hopefully) we will all get vaccinated in time to enjoy a grand summer.

The 60-day legislative session ended today at noon. Among the bills headed to the governor’s desk to be signed into law are some pretty big scores for the environment:

The Community Solar Act is perhaps the most anticipated bill of the lot. It will allow renters and people who can’t afford rooftop solar to access the benefits of solar through subscription to a community solar project. The bill passed on Thursday.

Thanks to House Bill 76 and Senate Bill 8, we could be breathing cleaner air in the future. HB 76 passed on Tuesday. It will allow the New Mexico Environment Department to deny permits for companies that lied on their applications or have been convicted of environmental crimes in other states. SB 8 will allow state departments to pass some environmental regulations that are more stringent than those at the federal level, which will help local governments more effectively regulate methane and other air pollutants.

Other bills adopted by lawmakers include:

The Environmental Database Act (HB 51), will agregate data from multiple agencies into one digital place for easier public access.

The Prescribed Burning Act (HB 57), will make it easier for private land owners to conduct prescribed burns and creates a prescribed burn training and manager certification program and a statewide permitting system.

The Healthy Soil Tax Refund Contribution Option (HB 89), will allow taxpayers to check a box stating they want their refund to go toward grants that help farmers and ranchers develop soil restoration projects.

The Safe Drinking Water Testing Fund (HB 92), will provide more cash to make sure departments can afford to test water for dangerous contaminants (something the Environment Department did not have enough funds to do in 2020).

The Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act (SB 32) makes it illegal to trap wildlife on public land for everyone except enrolled members of tribal nations, scientists and government officials.

The Sustainable Economy Task Force (SB 112) will study how to transition away from fossil fuel without sinking this state into even deeper poverty.

The Clean Fuel Standard Act (SB 11) and the Radioactive Waste Consultation Task Force (SB 82) were both passed by the Senate and made it to the House calendar, but the session ended before they were heard.

Personally, we are very very VERY sad that the bill that would have allowed us to finally fulfill our dream of owning an electric vehicle did not even make it past a single committee. SB 58, the misleadingly named Electric Vehicle Charging Unit Credit, would have given single tax payers earning less than $50,000 a year a $5,000 credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle. Yes, it would have also offered a $300 credit for installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure in your home, but that hardly seems like the most important part of the bill. Come on Sen. Tallman, don’t you know the headline is the hook?? If this bill had been called the $5,000 Electric Vehicle Tax Credit for Low Income Individuals, we believe it might have generated more momentum. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? *Sigh.*

Read on for more 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.

Regional News

The city of Santa Fe announced a new initiative to plant more drought-resistant trees. The TreeSmart Santa Fe program will start on April 30. After a dry winter with very little snow, experts worry the prolonged drought will have a negative impact on New Mexico’s trees and make a new pest infestation in piñon forests more likely. Yellowing canopies of ponderosa pine forests in some parts of the state are also showing the stress of heat and thirst.

Santa Fe City Council passed a resolution designating Santa Fe as a Bee City USA affiliate, formalizing the city’s commitment to foster a healthy ecosystem where pollinators can thrive. These include leaving shrubs and grasses in areas where they might otherwise be mowed down—such as along medians and trails—and ending the use of harmful pesticides. The city’s Water Conservation Office will work with 22 local partner organizations to restore habitat and host at least one education event a year.

Earlier this year, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District told farmers not to plant crops if they could help it or to plant later in the season. Cody Nelson reported this month for Capital and Main, that farming takes up 76% of the states water but accounts for only 3% of the state GDP. Lawmakers and those employed in agriculture will have some hard choices ahead.

The Biden administration will hold a virtual forum on March 25 with environmentalists, oil and gas industry experts and other stakeholders to collect feedback about its proposed policies for oil and gas drilling on public lands. Biden signed an executive order in January temporarily halting new drilling permits to give the Department of Interior time to study the impacts. A permanent ban would have a disproportionate impact on New Mexico. As the Albuquerque Journal Reports, New Mexico accounts for 57% of all oil and 31% of all natural gas produced onshore on federal land.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asked Biden to give New Mexico Credit for its work on transitioning to renewable energy and cut us some slack when writing new oil and gas leasing policies.

Around the Web

Mexican gray wolves were once on the verge of extinction and are still the rarest subspecies of the gray wolf in North America. Now there’s a ray of hope that the species will survive. The population has doubled in the last five years and there are 186 Mexican gray wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona as of the latest count.

Extreme heat is one of the greatest growing threats of climate change in hot and dry parts of the country like Arizona and Southern New Mexico. A new study of multiple cities in the Southwest shows that poor and Latino neighborhoods are already suffering the most from heat—these neighborhoods are 4-7 degrees hotter than the wealthiest, whitest neighborhoods due to multiple factors including less green space and fewer trees in poorer areas.

The US House of Representatives voted to permanently ban uranium mining on nearly a million acres around the Grand Canyon.

Texas Republicans introduced a bill that would require investment funds to stop investing in any companies that have divested from fuels. It’s basically ESG investing in reverse.

Everyone is obsessed with Bitcoin these days. But the lucrative cryptocurrency has a dirty secret—it’s got an enormous environmental footprint.

SFR’s Environment News

Community Solar Gets its Day

A bill that would allow anyone to access solar through a community subscription model heads to the governor’s desk

Learning Under the Sun

As warmer temperatures welcome students back to school, outdoor classrooms await meaningful adoption