Stories of the ’15 and ’16 Sessions
The 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions were each dramatic and tumultuous in their own ways. They represented a sharp break with the recent past as the State House of Representatives changed from Democrat to Republican control for the first time since 1962, resulting in a very different strategy for CVNM and environmental allies in the State Capitol. The House saw a drastic increase in anti-conservation legislation beginning in 2015 and as a result the Senate became an important battleground to stop anti-conservation measures. This trend would likely have continued in the short budget session in 2016 had the state budget not collapsed. The lack of funding meant that both pro- and anti-conservation bills wound up together on the cutting room floor.
The partisan division in the representation of conservation values continues to be a disappointment in New Mexico. Decades of investment in the Republican Party by extractive industry interests continue to pay off, as Republicans side with industry the overwhelming majority of the time, sacrificing protection of public health and the environment.
Additionally, we’re beginning to see bills aimed at suppressing the spread of renewable energy in the state that are fairly transparently coordinated by national level fossil fuel industry funded interests and think tanks such as the Koch brothers, billionaire polluter tycoons, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills come in the form of various types of taxes and tariffs on solar installers, cleverly worded “greenwashed” bills conferring generous tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and studies to investigate seizing federal lands for state or private interests. CVNM and our ally organizations in the conservation community were able to stop these types of regionally and nationally coordinated measures in New Mexico in 2015 and 2016.
Despite the challenges, this legislature was not without its positive trends and compelling moments. In response to the introduction of a bill that would tie clean up funding for uranium legacy sites to new uranium mining and extraction, CVNM and the Environmental Alliance of New Mexico worked to bring organizers from the impacted communities to come to the Capitol and share their stories with the legislators who were sponsoring the bill. At the end of a long day of meetings, the advocates were able to secure commitments from both co-sponsors that the bill would not move in 2016. This represents a model approach for dealing with legislation that has environmental impacts on communities. Where the community is aware of the issue, and willing to speak about it, our role is to help facilitate, step back and listen.
Working with communities to ensure that their voices are the ones heard in the Capitol is key to addressing the myriad environmental injustices around the state. From the uranium legacy waste issues in Western New Mexico, to the respiratory health crisis in the South Valley of Albuquerque, to the methane hotspot in the Four Corners area, New Mexico communities are (and have been) desperately in need of more focus from legislators in Santa Fe. Finding more ways to elevate community voices is a priority for CVNM moving forward.
As difficult as the outlook may occasionally appear, the prospects for environmental policy in the State Capitol show clear paths forward to success. Renewable energy is starting to gain traction as a commonly accepted benefit for the state. We’re even seeing the occasional Republican step up to help ensure that New Mexico stays on track to be a national leader in renewable energy. But the most important advantage that we have is the fact that conservation values span all corners of the state, and all demographics. Conservation is a New Mexico value, and we’re proud to carry that message to the State Capitol.
Renewable energy under attack
A bill was proposed in the 2015 session to rollback New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard – the law that sets how much renewable energy regulated utilities are required to provide for New Mexicans. HB 445, sponsored by Rep. Larry Scott, attempted to eliminate the requirement that utilities provide 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. As a clear attack on renewable energy, HB 445 was a high priority bill to defeat for much of the environmental community and it passed the House of Representatives by only a one vote margin. The Senate Conservation Committee (SCONC) vote to table the bill, effectively killing it, was 6-2 (you can see details on this vote here). It’s significant that Sen. Pat Woods chose to recuse himself from voting on the bill in SCONC. As an owner of a wind farm in eastern New Mexico, Sen. Woods stated that he chose to recuse himself from the vote because it would directly impact an industry that he profits from. We applaud Sen. Woods for clearly weighing the issue seriously.
Bills that attempted to strip voting rights were a priority for CVNM to defeat this session. New Mexicans who don’t have photo identification tend to be from low-income, rural, Native and communities of color. These are your neighbors who are most affected by pollution and overall environmental degradation. Change Voter ID Requirements (HB 340, Brown) would have required voters to provide photo identification to vote. This effort puts up another hurdle New Mexicans must overcome when engaging in their most basic democratic right. With record-breaking low voter turnout in 2014 and voter disenfranchisement occurring here in New Mexico, we need to make it easier to vote rather than more difficult. We know that when voters make it to the polls, pro-conservation candidates win.
There were multiple bills filed in the 2015 session that proposed to require voters show identification before they are allowed to vote. While Voting Verification Procedures (HB 61, Smith/Ivey-Soto, not scored) was less onerous than other versions of voter identification legislation, HB 61 would still have imposed an additional barrier to the ballot box which would likely discourage voter turnout and disenfranchise eligible voters. This is bad public policy that will likely depress voter turnout.
Ensuring that every citizen’s voice is heard is crucial for the sake of our air, land and water – and that’s why CVNM fights to defeat attempts to impose voter ID laws on New Mexicans.
The Veto Pen
Two important pro-conservation bills made it through both chambers of the Legislature and on to Gov. Martinez’ desk for approval – and she chose to veto them rather than support solid public policy that would create jobs and help New Mexico confront the climate crisis.
New Mexico is ground zero for climate change impacts and we see the effects on a daily basis. Extended drought threatens the very livelihood of our communities, families and economy. Erratic wildfires, fueled by climate change, have resulted in catastrophic damage and loss of property and life.
New Mexicans are ready for climate action and we need state policies to curb climate-change-inducing carbon emissions. This will better prepare us for increasing climate impacts and promote job creation in the growing market for clean and more efficient energy technologies.
The Solar Tax Credit Extension (SB 391, Stewart) would have extended the existing tax credit for the installation of commercial, residential and agricultural solar systems, which is set to expire December 31, 2016. This tax credit has helped many New Mexicans invest in solar energy for their homes, businesses and farms, improving the environment and public health by reducing the demand for coal-fired electricity. The Solar Tax Credit has proven to be successful, assisting the booming local industry to grow 73% from 2012 to 2013, for a total of 1,900 solar jobs in New Mexico.
When it became clear that fiscal conservatives on the newly-formed House Ways and Means Committee may not support the tax credit, a compromise was struck. The version of the bill that reached Gov. Martinez desk included a reduction of the tax credit over eight years. Despite this compromise, Gov. Martinez failed to sign, or “pocket vetoed”, a bill that would have created economic development, and improved air quality and public health. By choosing to take no action on the bill, Gov. Martinez again put polluter profits over the health and well-being of all New Mexicans.
While Gov. Martinez “pocket vetoed” the solar tax credit, she actively vetoed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (SB 94, McSorley). The bill would have licensed a pilot program to research the growing, selling and processing of industrial hemp in New Mexico. This would have set New Mexico up to be ready to license hemp cultivation and processing when allowed by federal law.
Industrial hemp is an incredibly versatile, fast-growing and drought-resistant agricultural product that requires virtually no pesticides or herbicides. It can be used to produce paper, textiles, plastics, fuel and food products, and has proven very profitable for farmers in other countries.
The bill made it through five committee hearings with only one dissenting vote – bringing the total of opposing votes to 21 out of 112 legislators.
Opening New Mexico up to hemp farming has been attempted before, but this year was different. For the first time, the federal farm bill no longer prohibited growing industrial hemp in a pilot or research program. Adopting legislative guidance on a pilot program would have given New Mexico’s Agriculture Department a head start on crafting laws to regulate the growth and sale of hemp when it is legalized at the national level.
Unfortunately, the prosecutorial Governor chose to veto the bill despite bipartisan legislative support.
Attack on the Mining Act
Changing Definitions in the Mining Act (HB 625, Zimmerman, not scored) proposed to significantly weaken protections for groundwater and public health in the Mining Act, one of New Mexico’s most effective environmental laws. HB 625 proposed to remove the existing Mining Act requirement that reclamation be self-sustaining, to allow unlimited expansion of some open pits or waste units and to relax “standby” requirements that could allow operators to circumvent reclamation at mining sites.
In light of the Gold King Mine spill that contaminated the Animas and San Juan rivers, we urge the legislature to promote strong protections, like NM’s Mining Act, rather than attempting to weaken such critical safeguards. Thankfully, HB 625 died in the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee without being voted upon.
Rep. Andy Nuñez wants wolves extinct
During the past legislative session, anti-conservation sentiment was, at times, taken to the extreme. One of the more brazen displays took place during a debate in the House Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee on March 9th regarding Denounce the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program (House Memorial 117, Nunez, not scored). The legislation would have required the Governor to withdraw the state of New Mexico from the existing Mexican gray wolf recovery program and transfer the management of Mexican gray wolves to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. In an exchange with Rep. Bill McCamley, Rep. Andy Nuñez revealed that he wanted the population of wolves to be “zero.” When Rep. McCamley followed with the question“…you want to see the wolf be extinct?” Rep. Nuñez unequivocally answered “yes.” A majority of the committee agreed with his memorial and gave it a Do Pass recommendation by a 6-2 vote. Only Rep. McCamley and Rep. Bill Gomez voted no. This measure and the accompanying anti-conservation rhetoric was just another example of how severe attacks on our environment and wildlife became in this past session. It also was one of many pieces of legislation that attempted to transfer existing federal management programs to state control.
A United Front
Our sister organization CVNM Education Fund facilitates the Environmental Alliance of New Mexico (EANM), a coalition of over two dozen conservation organizations representing over 60,000 New Mexicans. EANM convenes throughout the year to develop unified positions around key policies—called our common agenda—that the groups work on together during the session.
This year, EANM focused on raising awareness around the Gila River and supporting continued investment in clean energy. That’s because last fall, the Interstate Stream Commission voted to move forward with a billion-dollar proposal to divert the Gila, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river. EANM supported a slate of bills that called for fiscal responsibility and transparency, and depoliticizing the state’s water planning process. Two additional policies focused on extending critical tax credits that encourage New Mexicans to invest in renewable energy infrastructure at home, like rooftop solar panels.
Although many of these measures stalled in committees—or were vetoed by the Governor—the discussions around each issue before the legislature set the stage for future success as we look to supporting these measures in upcoming sessions.