Advocates hope to see more green legislation in 2024

By Joe Thompson / NM News Port

Green energy advocates like Mariel Nanasi will be watching the state legislature in January, hoping for some progress.

“We have a sun on our flag, we should be living by that example,” Nanasi said. 

The New Mexico state flag consists of a yellow background with red Zia sun symbol.

Nanasi is the Executive Director of New Energy Economy, a nonprofit group pushing for structural change toward green energy alternatives.

Nanasi hasn’t been very happy with New Mexico’s governor, the Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“We should be leading the nation because we have probably the best solar in the country,” Nansi said, but adding, “We have doubled the oil and gas production since Michelle Lujan Grisham has been made governor.” 

Nanasi is pushing for a Solar Access Fund to help communities speed up their move to solar energy.

That’s just one environmental measure that could come up in the 2024 legislative session.

 Other measures include a possible revision of the 1935 Oil and Gas Act, more electric vehicle tax credits, and a proposal by the governor to fund a Strategic Water Supply project.

That’s not to say oil and gas drilling won’t be on the minds of lawmakers. The oil and gas sector is the backbone of the New Mexico economy, contributing over $4 billion to the state government, thus establishing itself as a potent political lobby at the state house. However, the industry is finding itself under increasing pressure to clean up its environmental impacts.

According to the Overseas Development Institute, an NGO focused on global equity issues, “oil and gas production and processing use a lot of water, create effluent, and have the potential to unintentionally contaminate water sources.”

According to one study, New Mexico is ranked as the third-least environmentally friendly state in the nation 

“This score came from New Mexico having the fourth-lowest water quality score, scoring 12.3 out of 100,” as reported in the Rio Rancho Observer

“New Mexico has the 13th lowest air quality in America, scoring 39.8 out of 100 for this factor,” the study reported “The state also produces some of the highest quantities of fossil fuel emissions in the country.” 

Natural resources, human health, and water supplies are all impacted by the effects of oil and gas.

Solar Access Fund

Nanasi, with New Energy Economy, believes renewable energy is a better alternative to the extractive economy of New Mexico. That’s one reason why she favors a proposed Solar Access Fund.

“The money for this fund will be set aside and used for cities and counties and tribal entities to solarize state-owned or tribal-owned buildings,” said Nanasi. “This should’ve been done ten years ago.”

It’s a seismic shift that we need in our economy.

Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy

According to a press release, State Senator Harold Pope (D-ABQ) and State Representative Reena Szczepanski (D-Santa Fe) are planning to support the solar access fund.

All signs are pointing to increasing green energy in the state. According to the New Mexico State Land Office, “New Mexico has an abundance of wind, solar, and geothermal resources, making it a natural location for renewable energy production and clean energy jobs.

“New Mexico ranks second in the nation for potential solar energy production and tenth in wind energy potential.”

Information on the Solar Access Fund will be discussed at the upcoming legislature. Photo provided by Mariel Nanasi.

“New Mexico should have solar on every single public school and every single public building, and that would be important for a number of reasons,” said Nanasi

“Number one, it would show people that the government cares about you. Number two, it would save tons of money, instead of sending money to the richest, wealthiest corporations that have caused the problem.”

Strategic Water Supply Project

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham used her recent visit to Dubai for the COP 28 United Nations Climate Change Conference as the setting for what she called an innovative proposal.

Grisham announced a strategic water supply initiative that would ask for $500 million to buy oil and gas wastewater that could then support green energy initiatives like storing renewable energy or manufacturing electric cars. 

The Rio Grande River of Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo taken by Danielle Prokop / Source NM).

The water supply project will use treated produced water, a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, to meet New Mexico’s increasingly limited water supplies.

Under the plan, the State will purchase produced water from businesses to increase water supply.

In 2024, the New Mexico Environment Department plans to provide instructions for anyone interested in pursuing such contracts.

After receiving confirmation that New Mexico will purchase its water, contractors will be able to start raising money for the projects on their own.

After that, the State will make the water accessible for use in renewable energy initiatives.

Electric Vehicle Tax Credits

To reach a fleet of zero-emission vehicles by 2035, Governor Grisham announced that she will pursue tax incentives for electric vehicles and that the state will begin the transition to EVs.

Electric vehicle tax credits incentivize people to purchase electric vehicles, which will help the environment by reducing pollution and dependence on fossil fuels.

“We will pursue EV tax credits in the upcoming legislative session to make EVs more accessible and more affordable for all,” Grisham said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
“I also directed the state to walk the walk by transitioning to a zero-emission vehicle fleet by 2035.”

The Oil and Gas Act

Meanwhile, some long-time oil and gas industry watchers think it could be time to update the state’s 89-year-old law governing oil and gas drilling in New Mexico.

According to an article from Capitol and Main, by reporter Jerry Redfern, a revision of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Act is under serious consideration. 

The 1935 Oil and Gas Act is the structure of how fossil fuel production is done in New Mexico. The article mentioned that, this time, Gov. Grisham is pushing for this act to be updated.

oil processing plant reflected in water
Oil production plant flares excess natural gas near Carlsbad.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than 13% of the nation’s crude oil was produced in New Mexico. As the seventh-ranking state in the top ten producers of natural gas in 2022, New Mexico contributed 6% of the gross national gas withdrawals.

The 2024 session of the New Mexico Legislature is a short session, usually restricted to budget matters, but the governor can introduce additional issues to be addressed. She’s expected to push for some crime reforms and some environmental measures.

Nanasi says it’s about time.

“We’re just super lucky that technology can provide an alternative to this fossil fuel economy. But it’s not just changing out oil and gas for solar, wind and batteries. It’s a whole shift. It’s a seismic shift that we need in our economy,” Nanasi said.