N.M. Environmental Laws: What Passed And What Must Wait
New Mexico is one of the fastest-warming states in the country, according to a 2016 report issued by the Union Of Concerned Scientists. In this year’s legislative session several bills addressing climate change were introduced by lawmakers. Not all of the measures were rejected. They didn’t all pass, either. KUNM caught up with environmental reporter Laura Paskus from New Mexico PBS about the urgency of climate change problems in our state and how local elected officials are responding .
LAURA PASKUS: So there's a few bills that are pretty exciting that did pass. One of them is Senate Bill 8 that kind of has the nickname of the "stringency bill." And it's really important because it allows the state of New Mexico to set pollution standards that are more strict than the federal regulations. Roxy's bill passed, which is another one that prohibits certain types of traps, snares and poisons on public lands. One that did not pass that I personally am kind of reeling that didn't get very far this session was House Bill 9, the Climate Solutions Act. And that's a big one for New Mexico to have not passed.
KUNM: What would have done, and why did it really not make it through this session?
PASKUS: One, is that would have solidified and state statutes mandating that New Mexico is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of who was governor. I loved the Climate Solutions Act as a New Mexican, because the legislators who worked on crafting this bill really worked hard to make sure that there were protections and incentives and jobs for frontline communities, the people who were most impacted by environmental justice issues and pollution and job losses. It was really the big-picture bill that was looking at all sorts of different various impacts of climate change. My understanding is that it made it through at least one key House committee and then stalled, I think part of that got morphed into another bill. But some really key elements of that bigger bill are not included in that whatsoever.
KUNM: You know, many New Mexicans love and appreciate our beautiful landscapes here, yet not so much action to protect the environment has been done by state lawmakers. Do we have to wait for the federal government to adopt new and tougher environmental policies before New Mexico's lawmakers respond?
PASKUS: There's so many legislators who really know what they're doing on these issues. And I really feel like some of these gets stalled in these committees. You still hear a lot of Republicans regurgitating some really old oil and gas industry PR that just doesn't apply to our real world. You look at polls, and New Mexicans understand that the climate is changing, and that it will have negative impacts. We recognize that there are things that we can do to alleviate some of the problems. If we could get certain measures before the public, I think New Mexicans would be more progressive and forward-thinking of these issues.
KUNM: Legislators also considered a pause on fracking and the Clean Fuels Act. One thing that stuck out to me was one bill would've allowed state residents to sue for enforcement of environmental laws. It looked like a way for people to protect their health and safety along with their private property. What methods of recourse do New Mexicans have now that the bill failed? I mean, are we left with nothing?
PASKUS: Basically, one of the things that's really interesting is that when there are spills of say fracking fluids or oil on our public lands in New Mexico, there are laws that are on the books that require the operators to report these spills. There is not a law that they are required to notify local people and move forward with a cleanup plan.
KUNM: You know, are lawmakers really not seeing the consequences of this kicking the environmental can down the road? Tell me, how urgent is our situation here?
PASKUS: It's really urgent, Khalil. All we have to do right now is look at our river flows, at our reservoirs, at our dropping groundwater levels. This year, farmers in New Mexico are going to be bearing the brunt of the consequences of climate change and our refusal to act on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. By not acting on oil and gas issues they're failing New Mexico's farmers.
Your New Mexico Government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter. Funding for our coverage comes from the Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners like you, with support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.