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Climate Change: NM Lawmakers and Governor Disappoint in 2023 Session
Important regulations, investments, and tax credits fail to become law... again
This year’s 60-day session was another year of missed opportunities for New Mexico and the changing climate. Important policies took a back seat to other hot-button issues, and there’s a sense that Democratic leadership lacked initiative and enthusiasm with the many climate policies that failed.
Democrats are touting their passage of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, wildlife corridors, Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire retributions, and other bills, which have been regarded as wins by the environmentalists, but not nearly enough to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
I won’t go into all of the climate and environment bills that did and did not get the Governor’s final approval (check this Source NM article for a list of bills that reached the Gov’s desk), but I will briefly comment on the bills that would have been the most beneficial for the climate, and the New Mexico economy, but didn’t pass the finish line.
The following bills would have decreased emissions in New Mexico, increased economic development, improved infrastructure, and addressed demographic inequities at the root of climate change and public health, but did not pass:
The Climate Investment Center and Fund
SB169 would have created and funded the state’s first green bank. I wrote a detailed description of the bill when it passed its first committee back in February. In a nutshell, the investment center would have helped New Mexico attract up to $500,000,000 of federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to help finance climate-positive projects and businesses throughout the state - a win for the climate and the economy.
It didn’t make it out of the Senate committees, and it’s unsure whether the state will still have the ability to attract the half billion dollars being dished out to green banks. SB169 would have appropriated enough money to get the investment center off the ground, but now New Mexico may have to find another way to create the green bank in order to win those funds - likely by attracting another grant first.
The Clean Transportation Fuel Standard
HB426 would have given the Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) the unquestionable authority to create a clean transportation fuel standard (CTFS), or “low carbon fuel standard” as it is commonly referred to in other North American jurisdictions. Despite having an impressive track record of decreasing emissions and attracting jobs in other states, this bill did not make it out of the House committees.
A CTFS would require transportation fuel producers in New Mexico (the producers of gasoline, diesel, biofuels, electricity, etc.) to either have a carbon intensity below the standard set by the EIB or purchase credits from producers that meet the standard. This would decrease emissions in New Mexico by millions of tons, improve our health by clearing the air and water, attract thousands of clean energy jobs to New Mexico, and provide investments for EV charging infrastructure in poor communities - all without increasing gasoline prices (Bates White, 2022).
It is unclear whether a CTFS is possible without explicit authorization from the New Mexico legislature, but it should be a priority if New Mexico is to reach its emissions goals.
For more information on the benefits and supporters of a CTFS, click here.
SB520 would have set New Mexico’s emissions reduction goals into law. Originally set by Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham in a 2019 executive order, New Mexico’s emissions goals are vulnerable to political disruption if a Republican were to win the governorship in 2026.
The bill flew under the radar near the end of the session and didn’t gain any press coverage. It was an attempt at getting a true climate law set into statute but lacked the mechanisms, and political might, to accomplish those goals.
For context, Colorado’s “climate law,” while largely inadequate to reach their climate goals, at least has mechanisms for accomplishing them outside of making the emissions illegal. For example, Colorado’s climate law, in addition to setting their emission reduction goals into state statute, instructs insurance providers to measure climate risk, provides financing for climate-friendly projects, and introduces the potential for market mechanisms. Again, it’s far from what’s needed, but it’s a start.
If the State attempts to pass the Clean Future Act again next year (and they should), it should include mechanisms that will help the state achieve the emissions goals.
Electric Vehicle and Clean Energy Tax Credits
One of the most surprising fails on this list is the Governor’s line-item veto of EV and clean energy tax credits in this year’s massive tax bill. Already having the legislature’s approval, the highly-anticipated tax credits would have made it easier for the average New Mexican to purchase zero-emission vehicles, which are more expensive than their CO2-emitting counterparts.
The Governor’s E-Veto comes as the Biden administration ponders a rule that would require at least 54% of their US sales to be electric by 2030. Whether this potential rule holds or not, EV sales requirements will need to be enforced sooner or later to meet emissions goals, and electric vehicles cost too much for most New Mexicans.
This brings us to the need for more public transit…
SB127 would have funded and constructed a high-speed rail from the southern to the northern border of the state. High-speed rail is long overdue in all of the US, but it’s probably not coming anytime soon. Considering it took roughly 30 years for the current section of the Rail Runner to be built, I had little hope that more reliable passenger rail would attract legislative appropriations this year.
Political demand for passenger rail is increasing but has not reached critical mass, though demand for emissions reductions has. While needed, electric vehicles have become the default solution for low-CO2 transportation in the United States, despite their expensive and dangerous nature.
Honorable Mentions That Did Not Pass
Climate Legislation That Did Pass
The 2023 session did have some important climate legislation get the final nod from the Governor. Some of those are:
While the passing of these bills is a win for the environment, many of them are reactionary in nature. Outside of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund and the State Land Office Renewable Energy Office, it’s hard to tell how these bills will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and prevent future fires, droughts, sickness, and overall destruction of the environment.
I don’t want to downgrade the progress that New Mexico has made on climate policy since Governor MLG took office, but the fact is we can do better. In each legislative session that comes and goes, there are progressive climate bills being introduced that can get us to New Mexico’s Paris Agreement goals.
We have many politicians in the state that understand the size of the issues regarding climate change (Soules, Stefanics, Ortez, Small, McQueen, to name a few… there are definitely others), yet the most important climate bills never got to the finish line - largely due to Republicans filibustering every climate bill that was heard, and Democratic leadership not having the gusto to deal with them.
While most New Mexicans want more aggressive climate policies, the legislature and Governor couldn’t agree on how to deliver real climate solutions this year.