Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Lawmakers want to add new clean fuel standards to Environmental Improvement Act

One clean energy initiative proposed for the upcoming legislative session adds new language to the Environment Improvement Act and could give state environment officials some administrative teeth to enforce changes through a new carbon emissions offset credit fee structure. 

HB 41 was prefiled by representatives Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) and Christine Chandler (D-Albuquerque). 

The major change adds language to the act that can give state environmental leaders directives to set rules on compliance of “fuel lifecycles,” which takes into account the aggregate amount of carbon emissions released by energy industries.

Ortez, who co-sponsored and then said she dropped support for a proposal last year, said that setting benchmarks to track and assess fuel lifecycles will incentivize companies to meet carbon emissions standards set by the state.

She said lawmakers must do, “Everything that we can to incentivize the folks who are making fuels to do better, right? And that’s an approach that can be used in addition to other more punitive processes.”

If passed and signed into law, Ortez said an advisory committee would set up a structure that sets new fuel carbon measurement standards. The advisory committee will allow companies who follow these standards to sell their carbon offset credits to other energy companies in the state. 

She says this could be a reward for industries that comply with the new regulations and encourage community participation in industry oversight and for envisioning new economic opportunities, Ortez said.

The advisory committee would be made up of industry leaders, government officials, tribes, conservation groups and citizens.

One of the problems facing New Mexicans during a clean energy transition, Ortez reminded, is addressed within the bill. According to the legislation, any new fees issued would go to current state fund sources meant to address environmental standards such as water conservation, environmental health and radiation protection funds.

In New Mexico, Ortez pointed out that “taxes from oil and gas royalties is something that fuels our budget, and so as we think about transitioning away from oil and gas, we have to be investing in creating spaces.”  

She said that the bill first incentivizes rather than penalizes, and will require people to conduct oversight to make sure that the standards are being met and it does offer the ability to issue and process fees.

“One of the issues we have right now is that there’s no one doing these jobs,” she said. Also, regulatory offices need to take advantage of the federal credits and the newly minted Climate Investment Center to further support these roles, according to Ortez. 

If passed and signed into law, the bill gives the responsibility to to the Environment Improvement Board, an independent group appoint by the governor, to set rules and oversight. It will then send that to the New Mexico Environment Department who will then oversee the program. There is no appropriation request in the current version of the bill.

“No New Mexican is going to have to spend their own money, and this will not raise the price of gas,” Ortez said. 

The effect that energy operations in the state have on the public health of New Mexicans and its environment is what motivates Ortez to push this bill forward.

“It’s good for our communities to have fewer pollutants.”

CORRECTION:

The Environment Improvement Board is an independent group, not a division within the New Mexico Environment Department. The article now reflects their role in the legislation, if passed and signed into law. We have also clarified language in the article regarding the fees.

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