A bill that would create a state task force dedicated to shifting New Mexico away from fossil fuels gained momentum in the State House this week after passing the Senate earlier in the ongoing 2021 Legislative Session.
Senate Bill 112 would establish New Mexico’s Sustainable Economy Task Force which would work to find ways to diversify the state’s economy beyond its reliance on the oil and gas industry for state funds.
Those in favor of the measure argued that during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent collapse of fossil fuels markets, it became ever-more evident that relying on oil and gas extraction was risky as the industry is prone to dramatic booms and busts.
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Oil and gas entered a boom period in 2017 and by 2019, the state had a budget surplus of about $2 billion many credited to the increased production of fossil fuel in New Mexico.
But as the pandemic took hold, fuel demands dropped, and the state was left with an about $400 million deficit.
Oil and gas accounts for about a third of New Mexico’s budget, and sponsor Sen. Mimi Steward (D-17) defended SB 112 during numerous hearing, arguing it was not against oil and gas but supported the state’s efforts to find more industries to prop up its presently volatile economy.
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During Tuesday’s meeting of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee the bill was ultimately passed on a 7-4 vote.
SB 112 was referred to the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee where it will see more discussion, a subsequent vote and could be sent to the House Floor for a vote before reaching the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Co-sponsor Rep. Angelica Rubio (D-35) said the task force would work to identify new economic sectors for New Mexico to develop and support workforce development and training.
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Membership on the task force would be made up of representatives from state cabinet-level agencies, stakeholders and members of the public, and it would be tasked with providing annual reports and recommendations to lawmakers.
Jon Clark, deputy secretary of the New Mexico Economic Development Department said the Department supported the bill as it could provide a boon to New Mexico’s economic diversity.
He said the Department received a $1.5 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration to assist with short-term economic recovery efforts amid the pandemic and for long-term diversification, and that the task force could assist in such planning.
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“This task force and council that would be created under this bill provides statutory framework for not just oversight but really valuable input from across the state into how that plan will be formed,” he said.
Artemisio Romero y Carver, of Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) said SB 112 was part of necessary, broader effort to transition New Mexico away from fossil fuels and address pollution and climate change concerns.
He said New Mexico produces more than twice the national average of greenhouse gasses per capita, attributable to its heavy oil and gas development, particularly in the Permian Basin in the southeast corner of the state.
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“If our planet is soon to face ecological collapse it will be in large part because of the action or inaction being taken in New Mexico right now,” Romero y Carver said. “We’ve been given a clear moral imperative to transition our unsustainable economy.”
Joan Brown, executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light said a move diverse economy was needed especially in oil and gas communities often subjected to powerfully booms but destructive busts in the industry.
“We work with faith communities all over the state, and we continue to hear from them that they believe we need to be caring for Creation and communities, we need a diverse economy and it needs to be sustainable,” she said.
“This is especially true of our community members, faith leaders in Carlsbad who often say ‘Nobody is listening to us. We want a diverse economy.’”
There was no discussion from committee members ahead of the vote.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.