New Mexico Sets A Renewables Plan
This segment is part of The State of Science, a series featuring science stories from public radio stations across the United States. This story, by Laura Paskus, originally appeared on The New Mexico Political Report.
After eight years of ignoring most environmental issues, the New Mexico Legislature got busy on water, energy and climate change this year. According to the nonprofit Conservation Voters New Mexico, legislators took up more than 100 bills this session related to the environment.
Some didn’t pass, including Sen. Mimi Stewart’s solar tax credit bill (Senate Bill 518). That bill would have allowed New Mexicans a personal income tax credit of 10 percent of the cost of installing a solar thermal system or solar photovoltaic systems on homes, businesses or farms. Other bills that might get a second (or third, or fourth…) chance in later years include the Healthy Soil Act (House Bill 204/Senate Bill 218), the Environmental Review Act (House Bill 206), the Strategic Water Reserve (House Bill 281/Senate Bill 277), the Wildlife Protection and Public Safety Act (House Bill 366) and a number of bills related to water planning.
For some of the bills passed into law, the devil will be in the details of implementation. But the state is undoubtedly moving toward addressing some of its water, energy and climate challenges. Here are a few of the bills that passed this session.
For years, some Democrats have tried to restore the state’s ability to penalize oil and gas companies that pollute New Mexico’s waters. This year, the effort ultimately passed but took some twists along the way: the original bill, Senate Bill 186, didn’t make it to the Senate floor. But its provisions were added to another bill clarifying the Oil Conservation Division’s jurisdiction over produced water from oil and gas drilling.
How did the state lose the ability to protect its own waters from drilling waste? In 2009, Marbob Energy Corporation, now owned by Concho Resources, sued OCD, arguing it lacked the statutory authority to assess civil penalties and sanctions against companies that polluted water. The New Mexico Supreme Court sided with Marbob, ruling that OCD should instead report violations to the state’s Attorney General, which could sue to collect penalties. Because the AG must prove that the pollution violation was committed “knowingly and willfully” to enforce civil penalties on oil and gas companies, it had to prove the violation to a criminal standard. One other problem with that system? Under the Martinez administration, the state agency didn’t report any violations to the AG.
Now, New Mexico will once again have the authority to levy fines—up to $200,000, or more if the case goes to court—against companies that pollute the state’s waters.
Arguably the most wide-ranging piece of legislation this session, this sweeping bill creates new renewable energy standards for utilities and rural electric cooperatives in the state—50 percent by 2030, 80 percent by 2040 and with the goal that 100 percent of the state’s electricity will be carbon-free by 2045. It also authorized an “alternative mechanism” for financing the retirement of coal-fired power plants, such as the San Juan Generating Station by 2022 and the Four Corners Power Plant in 2031. According to the bill’s fiscal impact report, it is also designed to mitigate the economic impacts that shutting down those plants will have on local communities.
SB 462 provides $1.5 million for the Economic Development Department to create a new division, one focusing on promoting outdoor recreation activities in the state. It also creates a 15-member outdoor recreation advisory committee and infrastructure fund and establishes an outdoor equity grant fund to create recreation programs for youth.
Late on the final night (technically, early on the final morning) of the session, the bipartisan Water Data Act passed the Senate on its second attempt. The bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Melanie Stansbury, an Albuquerque Democrat, and Rep. Gail Armstrong, a Republican from Magdalena, allows the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology to develop a “modern, integrated approach” to collecting and sharing water data that comes from a variety of state, federal, local, tribal and nongovernmental organizations. The bill also creates a new interagency water data council tasked with submitting a plan to the legislature by Sept. 1 each year assessing water data needs, goals, actions, progress, and the budget needs for the next year.
You can still kill a coyote if you’re protecting yourself or your property. You can even hire someone to kill coyotes on your property. But shooting them as part of a contest is no longer legal in New Mexico. Such contests offer prizes for the largest or most coyotes shot, and the canines are often flushed out with dogs or calls. If it becomes law, as is expected, organizers of coyote-killing contests will be charged with a misdemeanor and participants, a petty misdemeanor. Even before the bill passed, State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard had banned coyote-killing contests on State Trust Lands.
The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission plays an important role, making critical water and funding decisions statewide. Commissioners have been appointed by the governor, and although they are supposed to be from different regions and represent a mix of political parties, irrigation districts, acequias, tribes and drinking water utilities, the commission currently isn’t the most diverse state body. This bill would shake up the commission’s makeup a bit by ensuring appointed members live in at least three different water districts and that the commission includes a professional hydrogeologist. It allows the Legislative Council to appoint four members and also requires all actions of the commission to pass by a two-thirds majority vote.
This is another bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy, an Aztec Republican, and Sen. Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat. This act creates the Forest and Watershed Advisory Board, overseen by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, which will foster partnerships, including with corporations, to co-fund or leverage funding for forest and watershed projects in the state. In the past, the use of state funds on private lands violated the anti-donation clause of the state’s constitution.
There’s no dearth of choices for New Mexicans who want to sport a fancy license plate. If SB 234 is signed into law, drivers would be able to choose a pollinator-protection plate. Part of the initial $25 fee (and the $15 annual renewal fees) for the new plates will go toward New Mexico Department of Transportation projects that benefit pollinators like birds, bees and bats. And why is this bill so cool? Because New Mexico kids who are a part of the Wild Friends program at the University of New Mexico School of Law helped draft it.
(And hey, if you want to check out a pollinator-friendly plant guide Wild Friends made, visit here.)
With passage of this bill, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the state’s Department of Transportation will prepare a statewide wildlife corridors plan—to help protect wildlife from vehicles, and protect drivers from accidents. The plan will identify migration corridors for wildlife and also come up with ways to help them cross highways and roadways more safely, such as via underpasses and overpasses.
Laura Paskus is the environment reporter for New Mexico Political Report. She’s based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
IRA FLATOW: Now it’s time to check in on the state of science.
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IRA FLATOW: Science where you live of national significance. New Mexico is one of the nation’s top producers of fossil fuels ranking third in crude oil production, ninth natural gas. So it might come as some surprise that the state legislature has voted to shift the state to an entirely renewable energy portfolio by 2050. Joining me now to talk about what’s going on in New Mexico is Laura Paskus. She’s an environmental reporter for the New Mexico Political Report. She joins me by Skype from Albuquerque. Welcome to the program.
LAURA PASKUS: Thanks Ira.
IRA FLATOW: So how close are we to making this a law?
LAURA PASKUS: Well actually, the governor just signed the act a few minutes ago. I’m actually not reporting on the governor signing it because I’m talking to you. So it’s pretty exciting.
IRA FLATOW: Well, your mind is in the right place. Thank you.
So why is it so exciting? Tell us.
LAURA PASKUS: So the vote didn’t move through the legislature along party lines. But this law also had support from environmental groups, the state’s largest electrical utility, and also business and labor groups. So it’s really a lot of people coming together to support renewable energy and also to move forward with the retirement of a coal fired power plant here in the state.
IRA FLATOW: So what does the law say? You can buy 2050, 2050 all the room Newell bills are going to be powering the state?
LAURA PASKUS: By 2045 actually. So we’re looking at 50% by 2030, 80% by 2040. And with the goal that the state’s electricity will be carbon free by 2045.
IRA FLATOW: So how is this all possible there?
LAURA PASKUS: So part of the reason we’re able to do this is we have two coal fired power plants in the state. And both of them are in the process of being shut down in parts. So the one that’s really a part of this bill is from the 1970s. But the San Juan generating station has been shut down in pieces because it hasn’t been in compliance with federal air quality standards. And also as you know, the price of coal isn’t as competitive as some of the other sources of electricity. So it’s been a process to move this. And now the goal is for this plant to be completely shut down by 2022.
IRA FLATOW: We’re seeing the effects of climate change all over the country with the flooding in Nebraska and Iowa with the fires, the wildfires in California. Are the folks in New Mexico seeing this also and saying we’d better get a move on?
LAURA PASKUS: We are. I think across the state we’re seeing the impacts of climate change, whether that’s been some of the really big wildfires that we’ve had. We also have really stark water challenges in the state, not just surface water from our rivers and streams, but also our groundwater levels are depleting. So that’s a big concern for the ag community, as well as for cities and rural communities. So we’re also seeing even public health impacts from dust storms and the spread of certain infectious diseases. And so climate change really is on the front of lots of people’s minds in New Mexico.
IRA FLATOW: Well Laura, thank you for being so loyal and staying with us when you should be you know in the state capital.
LAURA PASKUS: Thank you for caring about New Mexico.
IRA FLATOW: We do, we do. Thank you very much. Laura Paskus is an environmental reporter for the New Mexico Political Report.