Protecting New Mexico from pollution while transitioning the state away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy has been a top priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her backers in the Legislature.
The 2023 Legislative Session began Tuesday in Santa Fe and lasted 60 days through March 18, with Democrats pre-filing several bills on energy and environmental issues to be addressed in the longer, policy-driven session, which is an annual 30-day session alternates budget-oriented sessions.
While more bills may be introduced during the session, several pre-bills in the State House and Senate are aimed at advancing renewable energy, tackling pollution from oil and gas and other industrial sources, while also targeting specific industries growing in the state.
More:Oil windfall pushes New Mexico spending proposals to $9.4 billion. The legislator warned of bankruptcy
Here’s a look at energy and environmental bills to consider or be aware of as the 2023 legislature begins.
Environmental rights demand protection from pollution
Democrats plan to push the so-called “green change” again this year via joint Resolution 4 in the House of Representatives and a similar joint resolution in the Senate.
The resolutions, if passed, would provide a voting question to voters in New Mexico’s next election seeking to amend the state’s constitution to include the right to a clean environment.
If finally enacted and codified, the Environmental Rights Provision would place responsibility for a clean environment on city, county and indigenous governments.
More:New Mexico Democrats hope to pass a “Green Amendment” to protect pollution rights
While proponents of the measure, introduced at last year’s session but died in committee, argued it was necessary to ensure New Mexicos were protected from pollution, opponents in the GOP claimed it could leave the government vulnerable to litigation and hinder development.
Natural gas as a renewable energy?
House Bill 96, tabled 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 to provisions in state statutes describing the state’s renewable energy portfolio.
Combined Cycle Power Plants use natural gas to generate electricity not only through combustion, as in single cycle systems, but also through steam generation.
More:Oil and gas, earthquakes top environmental stories in southern New Mexico in 2022
Waste heat generated by burning natural gas is sent to a heat recovery steam generator, where steam is pressurized for other turbines to power additional electrical power, read a report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Of the 491 gigawatts of natural gas-fired electricity generation in the US, more than half of 280 GW comes from combined-cycle power plants, the EIA reported.
Renewable energy could be boosted by bills
Several bills introduced in the House and Senate would support New Mexico’s growing renewable energy industry as Democrats hope to meet a 2019 goal set by Lujan Grisham for 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045.
Senator William Soules (D-37) of Las Cruces introduced a bill that would provide for new power generation plants or replacement capacity after July 1 to produce “clean energy” known as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, or hydropower is defined.
More:Energy storage is being pushed by the New Mexico legislature via tax credits to encourage renewable energy
Soules also filed another bill to remove a renewable energy generation cap, which currently allows a facility to supply no more than 120 percent of the average annual consumption of the host at the facility’s site.
Another bill, House Bill 32, sponsored by Albuquerque State Assemblywoman Debra Sarinana (D-21), would provide tax incentives for those who build and install an energy storage system on their properties, as Sarinana argued that storage is the next necessary Step towards producing renewable energy is energy that is widely accessible to New Mexicans.
Lawmakers are attempting to use government funds to combat climate change
If passed, House Bill 42 would require the state of New Mexico to establish a program to combat climate change and its public health impacts.
This would be achieved through a newly created public health and climate resilience fund within the treasury, where grants, donations and other allocations of government money would be used for projects targeting climate change initiatives.
More:Wildfires raged in New Mexico last spring, prompting the law to ban in-season burning
Grants from the fund would be capped at $250,000 and would go to a political subdivision or indigenous group to help prepare for the impact of extreme weather and other climate impacts.
The bill would also allocate $1.1 million from New Mexico’s General Fund for fiscal year 2024 for the statewide program and $5 million for the fund.
New Mexico nuclear waste storage ban expected
New Mexico Senator Jeff Steinborn (D-36) of Las Cruces signaled his intention to introduce a bill during the legislature that would likely seek to ban the storage of high-level nuclear waste at a New Mexico facility.
This came about when Holtec International was proposing to build such a facility in southeastern New Mexico near Carlsbad and Hobbs, which could temporarily hold up to 100,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from around the country.
More:New Mexico nuclear waste project rejected in latest poll, company pledges local support
The company is afoot with a federal permitting process to build the site, but was opposed by Steinborn, chairman of the legislature’s interim committee on radioactive and hazardous waste, and others who feared it would harm New Mexicans living along transportation routes and in living near the site could put themselves at risk of exposure to radioactive radiation.
One such measure was recently passed by the Texas legislature when another company, Waste Control Specialists, received federal approval for its own such facility in Andrews, Texas, along the state’s New Mexico border.
Hydrogen power will likely get another try in New Mexico
State Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-9) was set to introduce new legislation to incentivize hydrogen energy projects in New Mexico after a string of failed bills last year.
Lujan Grisham announced a state priority via executive order in March 2022 at the start of last year’s legislative session, urging cabinet departments to seek funding for expanded hydrogen production in the state.
More:New Mexico is working with three western states to apply for $1.25 billion in hydrogen energy funding
The state also signed an agreement with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to develop and interstate hydrogen hub, seeking a portion of $8 billion funded by the federal government for the development of four such regional hubs across the state as part of a broader effort to development of lower-emission forms is provided energy.
Much of the hydrogen development included in the regional plan would occur in northwest New Mexico in the Lundstrom District.
The state said it will target “clean hydrogen,” which proponents say would likely represent “green” hydrogen products that use renewable energy and emit only water, but are known to be the most expensive form.
Blue hydrogen would see the hydrogen derived from natural gas, itself often extracted from underground by drilling for fossil fuels, and sequester carbon emissions. Without sequestration, operations 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.