Environmental bills and priorities passed in 30 days of Congress

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Lawmakers passed three bills this Congress that specifically focus on environmental priorities and increasing funding for environmental agencies.

Some of the efforts have been years in the making, including creating rules to reduce “carbon-intensive” fuels for cars, researching geothermal energy, and funding future land and water conservation. There are also things.

“Our Conservation Heritage Fund is currently second to none in the nation,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at a news conference at the end of the session, noting that Congress provided $300 million to the Permanent Fund.

The governor has until March 6 to veto or sign the bill. For now, let’s take a look at what did and didn’t pass during the 30-day New Mexico Legislature.

budget benefits

State environmental agencies, including the New Mexico Department of the Environment and the state Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, saw double-digit increases in their budgets.

In House Bill 2, lawmakers passed a $10.22 billion budget.

The New Mexico Department of Environment’s total budget this year will be $201 million, a 26% increase from the $159 million budget passed in the 2023 session.

72 bills that reached the governor’s desk and bills that did not reach the governor’s desk

While the Department of the Environment’s operating budget includes significantly more federal funding, New Mexico increased its general fund funding to $4 million next year, bringing the total to NMED to $29.7 million. . This was less than the administration’s budget request, which called for an additional $6.9 million from the general fund.

An additional $7 million from the General Fund for the Surface Water and Ground Water Program will increase the number of employees in the permit program, but there is no estimate on how many people will be added, a state Department of Environmental Affairs spokesperson said. said Matthew Maez, a representative.

Maez said there are no plans to hire more employees based on the general fund increase.

“The increase will allow us to properly compensate our employees based on their education and experience level,” he said.

For the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, the total budget is $188 million for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, a 26% increase from the $149 million passed last year. .

Groundwater researcher Stacey Timmons said the $1.2 million recurring increase to the New Mexico Department of Geology and Mineral Resources will help monitor groundwater in the state. That’s half of the $2 million-plus the executive requested, but the money would allow someone to dedicate a full-time position to groundwater monitoring.

“This is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go,” Timmons said of funding water data.

Lawmakers allocated $300 million to the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. The fund could provide state funding for six government agencies to continue programs that are underfunded or sporadically funded.

The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will provide $50 million over four years to six state agencies and 10 of their programs.

This fund is disbursed annually and investments are also managed by the State Investment Board.

Screenshot of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. Funding is indicated for six state agencies and 10 programs. (Courtesy of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund Coalition).

The fund will provide millions of federal matching dollars for forest and watershed health, outdoor recreation, agriculture, historic preservation, and wildlife species protection and preservation, said Jake McCook, spokesman for the Heritage Fund Coalition. He said that it is possible to obtain.

Previously, state programs were required to collect state funds and put them into the program, resulting in a loss of federal funding.

“We now have 10 programs that will be funded with state money no matter what,” McCook said.

“We were the last Western state that didn’t have that funding program, and now we’re number one in the nation because we have access to so much money,” McCook said. said. “Both the governor and the Legislature deserve a lot of credit for that.”

What passed?

Three bills that prioritize the environment have passed both chambers and are on the governor’s desk.

Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) passed House Bill 41, which would authorize the Environmental Improvement Commission to draft and enforce new rules and standards for alternative fuels for cars and trucks.

“We’re really open for business,” Stewart said. “We are particularly positive about clean renewable energy projects.”

Lawmakers passed House Bill 91 Geothermal Resources Projects Fund, authorizing $2.5 million for geothermal energy projects that can harness the heat inside the earth to heat water and use it for electricity, hot water, heating and cooling.

An additional $1 million in state funding was approved for geothermal resource development at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Geology.

Senate Bill 169 would make changes to the Land and Conservation Fund, which supports county, city and tribal governments with state funds equal to federal funds. The bill would remove population caps and give priority to tribal and small governments. The Senate Finance Committee appropriated $10 million from the bill.

Lawmakers included tax credits for heat pumps and electric vehicles in their tax package, House Bill 252, which was vetoed last year.

“Governor, I think this bill is better than last year’s bill for a variety of reasons,” Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) said last week in a press conference with Lujan Grisham and other Democratic leaders. He said this at a press conference. “It’s obviously one-fifth the size.”

Stewart also celebrated the victory for the rooftop solar tax credit program that the state passed in 2020, but didn’t have the money to pay people.

“This tax package includes a provision that allows people who applied for tax credits in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 and were unable to do so due to lack of state funding to be able to apply again,” Stewart said at a press conference. ” last week. “We have set aside a $20 million fund for back payments and have significantly increased the cap, so we will never run out of money again.”

What was not discussed in this Congress?

Oil and gas donations are moving away from Republicans in New Mexico.

It is a short 30-day session, and the agenda is set by the governor and budget.

Most of the paper money will disappear.

Among the bills that failed to pass were three bills introduced by Rep. Debra Sariñana (D-Albuquerque) and a bill introduced by Rep. Joanne Ferrari (D-Las Cruces) that would give everyone environmental rights. It included a constitutional amendment bill to provide for. New Mexico.

One of Lujan Grisham’s priorities, the creation of a $500 million market for brackish water and oil and gas wastewater, failed at this session, but is expected to become a key part of the interim session and be introduced next year.

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