Effective government (or “good government”) refers to the way in which elected officials exercise their political authority to serve their constituencies. Good governance, with respect to the environment, requires that decisions are made and implemented using legitimate (legal), transparent, participatory, responsive and equitable processes to achieve effective policies that protect New Mexico’s communities and natural resources.
A common-sense, balanced tax policy is a strong indicator of effective governance. Tax policy is a reasonably accurate representation of a government’s priorities: Who is paying their fair share? Which government “favorites” are getting huge tax credits, deductions and exemptions, and who is paying the price for them? From a specifically environmental perspective, how well does a state’s tax policy address the public costs of certain activities — for example, the waste or emissions produced by certain industries? Costs of enforcement, cleanup and disposal — as well as losses suffered from permanent extraction or contamination — are mostly borne by the public; tax policy is an effective tool the government can use to remedy that inequity.
In part because of the ugly, partisan struggles that have dominated New Mexico politics for the past several years, over everything from the state budget to environmental rulemaking, many New Mexicans have lost faith in our elected representatives. Many believe that “Santa Fe” no longer works for ordinary people or in the interest of our families and communities.
New Mexicans deserve better from our elected officials than:
- Gov. Martinez unlawfully suspending rules designed to protect water quality, improve energy efficiency or reduce harmful carbon pollution; and,
- The legislature sacrificing the enforcement of public health and safety laws in order to balance the budget, when instead they could have closed tax loopholes for out-of-state oil and gas companies in order to generate funds.
The Administrative Rulemaking Trend: A recent, disturbing trend against effective government is the push for the legislature to have more direct control over administrative rulemaking. New Mexico has thousands of state rules on the books in its Administrative Code, all adopted in accordance with laws passed by the state legislature. Many of these rules involve complicated standards established after exhaustive consideration of many hours of expert and public testimony, and thousands of pages of technical documents.
The legislature, on the other hand, works 30- or 60-day sessions, during which time they must focus on hundreds or thousands of bills and other measures. Our citizen legislators simply don’t have the time or capacity to deliberate a rule adequately, including allowing time for appropriate technical testimony and scientific study. Rushed and superficial examination of complex environmental issues could likely result in decisions that would be based at least partly on political considerations and pressure from lobbyists, rather than methodical analysis.
This doesn’t mean that the current administrative rulemaking process is without its flaws. For an example of both good and bad government with respect to rulemaking, see this story of how energy conservation rules were first adopted and then repealed.
Example of action that fosters effective government:
It’s difficult to achieve good government without transparency. Fortunately, after a few fits and starts, the legislature passed a measure sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue which created the “Sunshine Portal.” The portal provides public access to important information about New Mexico state government, including spending, budgets, revenues, employees, contracts and more. You can access the Sunshine Portal from this link.
Examples of actions that fail to foster effective government:
In several cases, the Martinez administration has dismantled, or attempted to dismantle, rules already on the books in New Mexico.
- Initially, the administration unlawfully refused to publish the duly-adopted rules on energy efficiency, water quality and carbon pollution. After the New Mexico Supreme Court forced Martinez’s agencies to follow the law in those cases, her appointed boards and commissions sought to reverse prior decisions with the absolute minimum of public input and consideration.
- The New Mexico Game Commission repealed a ban on trapping in the Gila National Forest, further threatening the endangered Mexican gray wolf and other wildlife.
- The Construction Industries Commission (CIC) reversed a common-sense energy conservation code designed to save New Mexicans money on their utility bills. You can find an excellent description of how two rulemakings on the same issue can be starkly different with respect to transparency here.
- The Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) recently reversed the “pit rules,” which govern the disposal of toxic wastes from oil and gas drilling. Despite more than 400 cases of groundwater contamination before the rule, and exactly zero cases of groundwater contamination since the rule went into effect, the commission opted to side with big oil companies instead of landowners and New Mexicans desperately trying to protect precious water resources.