Environmental advocates and lawmakers alike expressed frustration for climate initiatives at the end of the 2023 session.
In the spotlight are Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s vetoes of broadly supported geothermal research and credits for electric vehicles, energy storage for businesses and homes and rebates for electric heat pumps in the 2023 tax package.
This was a 60-day session following New Mexico’s most devastating fire season in decades, drying of the Rio Grande through Albuquerque in June 2022 and record flooding after heavy monsoons. Lujan Grisham vowed to put a zero-emissions goal into law at the State of the State address.
Sen. Pro Tem Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque), told Source NM she was “puzzled” by the vetoes on geothermal, and said she personally urged the governor’s staff to keep the climate credits intact.
She acknowledged one issue with the tax package, “the credits were too intertwined with each other, it was hard to veto just some and not the whole thing.”
As for other climate action – beyond a slew of water planning and funding bills – she called the past session “depressing, because we really didn’t do anything.”
Stewart brought forward this year’s version of the net-zero Clean Futures Act, which would codify Lujan Grisham’s 2019 executive order to cut New Mexico’s emission by 45% in 2030. Stewart’s Senate Bill 520, proposed to establish statewide greenhouse gas limits and add additional monitoring requirements for the oil and gas industry.
Stewart said climate bills are often getting stymied by a razor-thin margin in committees, pointing to Senate Bill 520’s tabling by one vote. She’ll bring the bill back in the interim and expects to introduce it again in 2024.
“It’s correct to say that we’re all very frustrated with the lack of progress. Very frustrated with the lack of progress, but we’re not giving up,” Stewart said.
In response to criticism that the lawmaking process is moving too slowly to address climate change, she said “if people don’t want incrementalism, then get better people elected. If people want things to get moving faster, then get rid of conservative Democrats or get rid of the Republicans.”
Stewart said addressing climate change is a priority for herself “and a lot of people in the legislature,” but said there’s no time.
“We’re doing the best we can, I know it doesn’t look like it’s good enough to many people. And, you know, I’ve got no answer to that,” Stewart said.”
The vetoed tax credits would have offset $2,500 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle, or $4,000 for low-income residents, and others offered tax breaks for installing heat pumps and energy storage in homes and businesses. One notable critic was the U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, who said he was “disappointed” Lujan Grisham cut the climate tax credits, which mirrored federal tax breaks.
“We can’t turn back time,” said Camilla Feibelman, the director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. “Those five tax credits represented huge amounts of work and consensus and leadership from the House and Senate, and to have them summarily vetoed is hurtful and it’s harmful.”
Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) spokesperson Sofia Jenkins-Nieto described the mood after the session as “pissed.”
“New Mexico government doesn’t seem to understand what the word crisis means when it comes to climate,” she wrote in an email.
Jenkins-Nieto said that Lujan Grisham’s past actions to enact methane rules and limit fossil fuels are not enough to counter “broken promises” on climate action.
“In terms of the governor’s vetoes, of the few small green tax incentives that the 2023 legislature included in the budget – it’s outrageous that she wouldn’t even let that move forward for sure, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that was anywhere near what is needed,” Jenkins-Nieto said. “The legislature failed us, and it did so under the leadership of the governor.”
Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) led a “die-in” demonstration in the Roundhouse rotunda before the governor’s State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. YUCCA criticized “broken promises” from the legislature and governor on climate action in the 2023 legislative session. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
In a written statement, the governor’s office did not address the climate tax credit vetoes.
Maddy Hayden, a spokesperson for the governor, called Lujan Grisham “a national leader in the climate space,” citing her work on methane rules, enacting new laws to push renewable energy by 2030 and solar tax credits.
“We are by no means stopping there: the governor will continue to pursue meaningful, bold climate action measures in the next session and throughout her second term,” Hayden said.
Lujan Grisham’s promise of “more to come” on the environment was met with skepticism from Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Law Center.
“I think we’re well beyond the point where words suffice,” he said. “I think what we need to see is action.”
Schlenker-Goodrich said while the governor made strides on conservation efforts by signing Senate Bill 9, which initiated two $50 million funds for future projects in land and water stewardship.
“We needed Senate Bill 9,” he said. “But we also needed those tax credits, and we needed a zero-emissions climate bill, but that didn’t happen.”
A bill to fund geothermal research and projects was axed by a pocket veto, a final decision.
House Bill 365 would have created a new center at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in San Juan to research geothermal energy, would give $10 million, and another $15 million to create a loan fund for projects. The bill provided $500,000 to state agencies to develop laws and rules overseeing a loan fund.
The bill overwhelmingly passed the house in a 63-3 vote and passed the Senate unanimously (with some senators absent for a 37-0 vote).
Geothermal energy uses heat from the earth – pulling energy from a combination of the movement to form the Earth’s crust and the radioactive decay of materials, to heat steam and generate electricity.
Also, the ground near the earth’s surface always stays at 50 to 60 degrees, allowing for direct use in heating and cooling homes.
Geothermal is getting more attention and use in public buildings such as V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, which is entirely heated and cooled using geothermal heat pumps.
Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Las Cruces), said the bill was backed on both sides of the aisle, and said the pocket veto left her “confused.”
“I think it looked like it was a win-win for the state as a whole,” Hamblen said.
Hamblen urged the administration to declare climate as a focus for the 30-day session in 2024.
“The plans have to be twice as aggressive in the next legislative session to approach and address these climate issues,” Hamblen said. “We’re not running out of time anymore, we’re out of time.”
Climate and Environmental Bills signed into law
- Senate Bill 9: Create Legacy Permanent Funds adds tens of millions of dollars to a Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund, which could eventually funnel money into a Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund for environmental work.
- Senate Bill 21: Prohibit Prescribed Burning During Red Flags bans controlled burns when the National Weather Service sends out red flag warnings about severe weather that causes fire conditions.
- Senate Bill 176: Acequia Fund for Disaster Response allows acequia and irrigation associations to use dollars from the state’s acequia and community ditch infrastructure fund for disaster recovery needs.
- Senate Bill 58: Interstate Stream Commission Members add more advanced expertise standards and require more geographic diversity throughout the state and Native nations, tribes and Pueblos.