What happened with “environmental” bills this 2023 session?
Much has been written and said already since Friday of last week when the Governor signed a tax package bill into law, but vetoed significant portions of that bill, including some “green” tax incentives. A large part of the frustration from those in the environmental community is based on the failure to follow through on the commitment the governor made during her State of the State Address at the beginning of this year’s 60-day session:
“We will also take another step in our sustainability efforts by codifying our zero-emissions goal in state statute—because there should be no question that New Mexico is committed to a cleaner, healthier future.”
That bill, a comprehensive climate bill that would address emissions from not just the oil and gas industry but across all sectors of industry and sources, never came to fruition. President Pro Tem Senator Mimi Stewart attempted to introduce an emissions reductions bill. However, not only were the provisions in the bill pared down from what policy folks had been working on and hoping for, but the bill was DOA in its first committee based seemingly on the whims of one Democratic Senator who took issue with “ambiguous language” and voted with the Republicans to table the bill.
There are other examples of failed environmental policy from the House, especially in the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Committee where multiple Democrats voted with Republicans to kill bills that would have at least been SOMETHING to address climate policy, but for the sake of brevity we’ll skip the details to get to the point.
What’s the difference between “climate” and “environment”?
The Governor has responded to some of the public outcry from the vetoes by pointing out that she did sign some “environmental” bills this session, and has been a leader on climate related policy since her first term. We don’t wholly disagree. We have not forgotten that her first Executive Order as Governor was a call for New Mexico to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which cause climate change, that under her first few years we saw the passage and implementation of the Energy Transition Act, and that administratively her Environment Department and the Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department have done outstanding work on implementing new emissions reductions rules and stepping up enforcement of bad actors.
And yes, this year some good things did happen. A good example is SB9, the Land of Enchantment Permanent Fund. This bill was supported by everyone in the environmental justice community, and also by the oil and gas industry. It was co-sponsored by a Republican and passed both houses with resounding support. We’re glad it passed. It was a good bill and instituted an important aspect of permanent funding for conservation projects in the state, a much needed change to the haphazards of funding such projects through the wonky budget process.
Conservation is, by definition, a process of conserving what we have or frequently even restoration projects to bring land, water, or air quality back up to a base level of some kind. In the same vein, millions of dollars were (rightly) approved by the Legislature and Governor to help victims of the large fires that burned through so much of New Mexico last year, including dollars for restoration projects. But the key difference, and one of the reasons those of us who work on climate resilience are upset about this year’s LACK of CLIMATE-related legislation, is that conservation is only one small part of the work that needs to be done to address our looming climate emergency.
A war of words
Politics is all about perception. On the one hand, Governor Lujan-Grisham absolutely stepped up to bat for New Mexicans this year in pushing for and supporting legislation that protects abortion access, trans-rights, and voting rights. Those are objectively good things.
However, the less visible but no-less dire threat of climate change that is ALREADY affecting thousands of New Mexicans daily was wholly ignored this session. These issues must be addressed with the same urgency as other policy measures. Whether its high rates of asthma in the Permian Basin, to those displaced by climate change-fueled wildfires, to farmers losing water access, climate issues affect all of us the same way access to healthcare or paid sick leave or voting does; it touches all of our lives in some way. We know this because frontline communities are showing up to do the work; it isn’t just the Big Green environmentalists but youth from Pueblos and workers from the Permian and communities across the state demanding action on climate change.
We cannot ignore REAL climate action by only passing conservation measures. We won’t reduce our emissions numbers through tax-incentives only. And we certainly won’t make any progress if we do nothing at all.
The reality is that the oil and gas industry looms large in New Mexico’s political arena. Y’all know we talk about it all the time. And it’s hard to ignore that if you look at not only the bills that were killed DURING the legislature, but even the few measures that made it into the tax package, which were all opposed by oil and gas companies during their hearings. It’s hard not to draw some conclusions about who’s got the real power in this state when viewed from that lens.
The governor and the legislature have taken some key steps toward climate action and while this year’s losses were painful, we are already looking ahead to what we can do in the immediate future. We’re calling on the governor to follow through on her commitment to all of us for comprehensive climate action that addresses emissions reductions. We know she has other priorities like gun violence that she’s already listed as being part of next year’s agenda and we’re not diminishing the importance of that effort. Equally as important is that the climate crisis is as real and as dangerous and as imminent as any other measure brought before the policy making bodies of this state.