Protecting New Mexico from pollution while shifting the state away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy were among key priority of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her supporters in the legislature.
The 2023 Legislative Session commenced Tuesday in Santa Fe, running for 60 days until March 18 with Democrats prefiling several bills related to energy and environmental issues to be taken up in the longer, policy-driven session alternating annually with 30-day budget-focused sessions.
While more bills can be filed throughout the session, several prefiled in the State House and Senate aimed to push renewable energy, tackle pollution from oil and gas and other industrial sources, while targeting specific industries growing in the state.
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Here’s a look at energy and environment bills to watch or look out for at the start of the 2023 Legislative Session.
Environmental rights seek protection from pollution
Democrats plan to again advocate for the so-called “green amendment” this year via House Joint Resolution 4 and a similar joint resolution in the Senate.
The resolutions, if passed, would put a ballot question before voters in New Mexico’s next election seeking to amend the state’s constitution to include the right to a clean environment.
If ultimately passed and codified, the environmental rights provision would place responsibility for a clean environment on city, county and Indigenous governments.
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While supporters of this measure, which was introduced in last year’s session but died in committee, argued it was needed to ensure New Mexicans’ protection from pollution, opponents in the GOP contended it could leave government vulnerable to litigation and stymie development.
Natural gas as renewable energy?
House Bill 96 prefiled by Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54) of Artesia, would classify combined cycle natural gas as renewable energy in state statutes.
“Natural gas using combined cycle technology” would be added to lists of renewable energy sources defined in the Rural Electric Cooperative Act, and provisions in state law describing the state’s renewable energy portfolio.
Combined cycle systems use natural gas to generate electricity through not only combustion, as in simple-cycle systems, but also by generating steam.
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Exhaust heat generated through the combustion of natural gas is sent to a heat recovery steam generator, where steam in pressurized for other turbines to drive additional electric power, read a report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Of the 491 gigawatts of natural gas-fired electricity generation in the U.S., more than half of 280 GW comes from combined cycle systems, the EIA reported.
Renewable energy could get boosted by bills
Multiple bills introduced in the House and Senate would support New Mexico’s growing renewable energy industry, as Democrats hope to meet a goal set in 2019 by Lujan Grisham for 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045.
Sen. William Soules (D-37) of Las Cruces prefiled a bill that would require any new electricity-generating facilities or any to replace capacity after July 1 to generate “clean energy” defined as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass or hydropower.
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Soules also prefiled another bill to eliminate a cap on renewable energy generation that presently allows a facility to supply no more than 120 percent of the average annual consumption of the host at the site of the facility.
Another bill, House Bill 32 sponsored by State Rep. Debra Sarinana (D-21) of Albuquerque, would offer tax incentives to those building and installing an energy storage system on their properties, as Sarinana argued storage was the next step needed to making renewable energy widely accessible to New Mexicans.
Lawmakers look to direct state funds to fight climate change
If passed, House Bill 42 would require the State of New Mexico to establish a program to address climate change and its effects on public health.
This would be achieved through a newly created Public Health and Climate Resiliency Fund within the State Treasury where grants, donations and other appropriations of state money would be used for projects targeting climate change initiatives.
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Grants through the fund would be capped at $250,000 and go to a political subdivision or Indigenous group to help prepare for impacts of extreme weather and other climate impacts.
The bill would also direct $1.1 million from New Mexico’s General Fund for fiscal year 2024 for the statewide program, and $5 million for the fund.
Ban expected on nuclear waste storage in New Mexico
New Mexico Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-36) of Las Cruces signaled his intention to introduce a bill during the legislative session that would likely seek to ban high-level nuclear waste storage at a facility in New Mexico.
This comes as Holtec International proposed to build such a facility, capable of temporarily holding up to 100,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from across the country, in southeast New Mexico near Carlsbad and Hobbs.
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The company is underway with a federal licensing process to build the site, but was opposed by Steinborn, who chairs the Legislature’s Interim Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee, and others who feared it could put New Mexicans who live along the transportation routes and around the site itself at risk for exposure to radioactivity.
A measure like this was recently passed by Texas lawmakers as another company Waste Control Specialists received federal approval for its own such facility in Andrews, Texas along the state’s border with New Mexico.
Hydrogen power to likely get another try in New Mexico
State Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-9) was expected to introduce new legislation looking to incentivize hydrogen power projects in New Mexico, after a string of bills failed last year.
Lujan Grisham announced a state priority via an executive order in March 2022 at the outset of last year’s legislative session, calling on cabinet departments to seek funding opportunities for expanded hydrogen generation in the state.
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The State also signed an agreement with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to develop and interstate hydrogen hub, targeting a portion of $8 billion allocated by the federal government to develop four such regional hubs nationwide as part of a broader effort to devise lower-emission forms of energy.
Much of the hydrogen development included in the regional plan would take place in northwest New Mexico, within Lundstrom’s district.
The State said it will target “clean hydrogen,” which supporters argued would likely constitute “green” hydrogen produce using renewable energy and only emitting water but known as the most expensive form.
Blue hydrogen would see the hydrogen extracted from natural gas, itself extracted from underground often through fossil fuel drilling, and carbon emissions sequestered. Without sequestration, the operation would be considered gray hydrogen, the most carbon intensive form.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.