Commentary: New Mexicans know that our economy and health of our air, land, water and communities are inextricably linked. Nothing can happen to one without impacting the other, which we saw as legislators convened for the 2016 30-day budget-focused legislative session. The budget shortfall served as a double-edged sword, eradicating existing tax credits that make rooftop solar affordable for more New Mexican families and stopping further tax breaks for oil and gas production.
“This session shows how our leaders have allowed New Mexico’s budget to become critically dependent on oil and gas revenues. We call on our legislators to take this opportunity to have a robust conversation about the future of our state, and embrace the coming clean energy economy now – when it can benefit our families and communities the most,” says Ben Shelton, CVNM Legislative Director.
Conservation Voters New Mexico focused on defending against any attacks on environmental safeguards and supporting significant pro-conservation legislation. Here are key environmental highlights and lowlights from the 2016 legislative session:
- The Rooftop Solar Tax Credit (SB 13/HB 26, Stewart /Maestas Barnes) would have provided an eight-year extension of an existing tax credit that helps make solar affordable for more New Mexicans. The residential solar tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of 2016, has helped middle class families the most – those with median incomes of $40-90K are installing the most solar. This tax credit contributed to one of the bright spots in New Mexico’s economy, with the solar industry growing 45 percent from 2012 to 2014, and continuing to add hundreds of jobs each year.
- The conservation community stopped the Solar Red Tape Bill (HB 256, Nuñez) before it could even pass its first committee. This bill requires extensive disclosures in any agreement for the financing, sale or lease of a distributed (solar) energy generation system. HB 256 could create an additional, unnecessary burden on firms marketing and installing solar and other alternative energy systems. The solar industry has seen exponential growth of jobs in recent years – this bill could have the effect of driving up costs and potentially forcing smaller firms and their local jobs out of New Mexico’s market.
- CVNM advocated against the PRC Appointment measure (HJR 8, Bandy) that would have replaced the five-member elected Public Regulation Commission (PRC) with a five-member commission appointed by the governor. It was combined with a portion of HJR 18, which states that applicants to the PRC are chosen first by the Legislative Council to form a pool of 15, from which the governor makes a final selection. This may have the effect of making the PRC overly subject to political manipulation. CVNM was joined by Commissioners Montoya, Jones and Espinoza in opposition to the bill and it was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee on a 8-3 vote.
- For the 9th time, a bill was introduced that would have forced communities to accept new uranium mining or nuclear waste storage if they want any funds generated to clean up the dangerous waste left behind from the last wave of uranium industry activity. The Uranium Blackmail Bill (HB 293, Brown/Lundstrom) is not a serious cleanup-funding bill. While building a small fund to remediate damage that the industry would cause (should they ever start mining again) could be helpful, it is not a serious attempt to remediate the devastating impacts of uranium legacy waste and new uranium mining. HB 293 is a half-baked hedge against the catastrophic environmental and community health impacts that would come along with new mining. Even though the bill hadn’t received a message, citizens representing Navajo, Acoma, Laguna and communities in between drove 12 hours roundtrip to make sure their voices and stories were heard by the sponsors of the measure.
- Geothermal Resource Development & Regulation(HB 289, Townsend) passed both chambers unanimously and is a boon to a plentiful renewable resource in the state. The bill transfers oversight of geothermal resources to the Energy Conservation and Management Division. It will act to close a loophole in the Water Quality Act (allowing some permit holders to avoid environmental rules for wastewater disposal by classifying wastewater as being regulated under the existing geothermal law). It will also make it easier for EMNRD to enforce the act by granting it the ability to assess administrative penalties. It passed both chambers with bipartisan support, and is now headed to the Governor’s desk.
CVNM’s Legislative Priorities include issues such as air quality, water, energy and climate change, effective government, environmental justice, wildlife and habitat conservation. The outcome of each measure on our agenda is attached and can be found on CVNM’s website at www.CVNM.org. We will update this page to reflect action by the Governor.
CVNM’s Legislative Priorities form the basis of our Conservation Scorecard, published after each legislative session. The Scorecard provides objective, non-partisan information about the conservation voting records of all members of the legislature.
CVNM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is connecting the people of New Mexico to their political power to protect our air, land, and water for a healthy Land of Enchantment. We do this by mobilizing voters, helping candidates win elections, holding elected officials accountable, and advancing responsible public policies.
 Solar Jobs Report, Solar Foundation:http://pre.thesolarfoundation.org/solarstates#nm