Wins, Losses for NM Conservation in 2022 Legislative Session
Monday, February 21, 2022
The postmortem has begun on the New Mexico legislative session which ended last week. Conservation groups concede much is left to be done, but they're touting a few programs they say will be significant for state residents.
A $10 million pilot project to support energy-efficiency improvements in low-income homes was passed, as was a bill requiring a coordinated statewide effort to clean up and reclaim legacy uranium mine and mill sites.
Joe Zupan, executive director of the water protection group Amigos Bravos, was hopeful more money would be allocated for the Water Data Act Funding.
"That passed the 2019 Legislature in both chambers unanimously, but we didn't really give it any funding," Zupan explained. "So, everybody agrees that there's a priority to water in New Mexico, but it just kind of gets lost in the shuffle."
The governor had championed a bill to turn New Mexico into a hub for hydrogen production. Proponents said it would create jobs, boost the economy and help the state move closer to its climate goals. Environmental groups opposed the bill because hydrogen is fossil-fuel based, and it ultimately failed.
Zupan hopes in next year's session, policymakers can take a harder look at water safeguards easily overturned. During the Trump administration, protections for intermittent or ephemeral streams were removed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), allowing for more discharge of fertilizers, pesticides and industrial chemicals.
Zupan pointed out it left the state's streams and rivers at risk.
"That's like 90-plus percent of New Mexico's rivers and streams suddenly lose protection, because in the desert Southwest, they're all intermittent or ephemeral," Zupan noted. "That was a disaster for us."
New Mexico is one of only three states without a surface water permitting program in place to ensure state waters are protected regardless of decisions made by the EPA.
The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a challenge to the 1972 Clean Water Act later this year. If opponents prevail, environmental groups note New Mexico could once again be in the crosshairs.
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