A Look Back at Our Complete Failure to Address Climate Change in this Legislative Session

There will be a good deal of finger pointing, but as is laid out in this post, the blame for this falls with Democratic leadership from the Governor to the leadership of each chamber and many committees.

Thank You

There will be weeks of reviewing votes, amendments, bill substitutions and industry donation patterns before we understand what just happened. But today we want acknowledge the efforts of so many volunteers who worked the Roundhouse tirelessly, researchers who responded to urgent requests for analysis of bills and then later to research responses to bill opponents’ concerns, our leadership team for participating in online meetings evenings after some of us had been at the RH all day. In the last week or so, we have received a staggering number of notes of appreciation.

What an incredible effort! I can’t thank you enough for the time and dedication you all contributed to this year’s legislative session. It was truly a feat of organization and communication. Thanks for taking us along on the ride. I have never been more involved in the legislative process,”

We’ve received so many variations on the theme above, from people who for the first time called one of their elected officials to others who had never before offered testimony at the RH but this year were there often, weighing in for justice. You can’t possibly know what it means to us to hear from you and to know that the work of so many volunteers has engaged so many others.  From the start Retake’s goal has been to make it easier for those who are busy to be effectively active in the civic process, to engage, educate, organize and activate. From your notes, it appears we have achieved this goal with many of you.  But we also had over half of our MUST PASS and Priority bills die, mostly for lack of time, but also for lack of our own power to push our legislators to make these bills priorities. With what we have learned, we will do better next session; with more people involved we will have more of an impact.

I also want to acknowledge the staff and the legislators who worked tirelessly and ridiculous hours in a process that is constantly moving, utterly perplexing, and with decisions being made on such important issues. We may disagree with many of the votes these legislators made, but we can’t question their effort or their commitment. But they get to talk, sometimes endlessly, in hearings and are quoted in the paper, their staff work just as hard, anonymously. Thank you to all of you.

One last thank you. From early morning,until 8pm nearly every day, Roxanne was either updating bill summaries to be distributed to legislators whenever a bill was being heard, editing a blog, or preparing the alerts that went out daily, she was always engaged. Even our dinners were spent in conversation about what we needed to do the next morning. So, thank you Roxanne…..there is simply no way to describe how important you are to this effort and to me. xo.

Stay tuned. One thing we have learned from SB 489 is that if you painstakingly organize support for a bill you want passed, you can create an irresistible mountain of momentum. We will work hard to orchestrate just such momentum for our bills in 2021.  That will involve a good deal of work over the next two years.  The degree to which we succeed will be directly proportional to how many of you sustain your efforts. Expect to hear from us about that.

In closing, even though we didn’t get every bill we supported through the Roundhouse, we want to celebrate what we all did together. Very soon we will announce a celebration here in Santa Fe, we will be sending out a survey asking you for your views on how Retake performed AND how our legislators performed. We want to learn from this and get better. We will also hold a debrief in Santa Fe so we can benefit from the collective experience we all have had. And, throughout the spring and summer, Roxanne and I will be visiting activists in different parts of the state from San Juan to Gallup to Las Cruces to Silver City and many points between.

You wanna know the truth?  I kinda wish I had a hearing to go to on Monday.  But we are off to AZ for a few days. Back soon. More to do.  Paul

Retake Our Democracy on KSFR, Saturday, March 16 and 23, 8:30 a.m. We will have a very special show this Saturday. I recorded interviews with three new members of the NM House Representatives, Rep. Andrea Romero, Rep. Abbas Akhil, and Rep. Anthony Allison, all of whom were candidates that Retake Our Democracy supported in their 2018 campaigns.  We spoke about their impressions of the Roundhouse process, biggest successes, and biggest disappointments.. It should be very illuminating. Since the interviews and my introduction extended beyond the 30 minute show, an extended version of the show will be available by podcast on Saturday.  After Rep Allison’s comments in the podcast, I offer more thoughts on this session.  March 23rd, KSFR will be in Pledge Week mode and I will do a live show with Hannah Laga Abram, a student leader of the Santa Fe Sunrise Movement (Green New Deal) and the planned student strike For the Future on Friday.  In a bizarre twist of fate, we wound up sitting right next to Hannah’s mom at the Dahr Jamail talk.. Joining Hannah will be Rep. Andrea Romero and City Councilor Renee Villarreal. We will talk about the Green New Deal, student activism in Santa Fe and what we might be able to do at City and State levels to advance GND principles and priorities. Click here to get to the podcast.

Over 500 Santa Fe Students Walk Out and Sit In. Roxanne and I so regretted not getting to the sit-in, but we were busy tracking the last minute shenanigans at the Roundhouse and preparing a final update. We’ve been told that over 500 students participated and that more strikes are coming.  After reading about how poorly we adults did in the Roundhouse in relation to energy, environment and climate change (a D- may have been gracious), maybe we adults need to take some stronger action next session at the Roundhouse. Business as conducted now, must stop.  Check out numerous videos from yesterday’s Youth Climate Strike on New Energy Economy’s facebook page. 

Roundhouse Roundup:  Many Successes But an D- on Climate Change & A Senate That Killed Abortion Decriminalization

Well, the Roundhouse has hours to go before adjourning. I had mistakenly thought that the last morning of the session was purely ceremonial and so Roxanne and I planned a trip to Arizona to convene with all three of our kids. This post  is being published just before hopping in the car and heading out. I don’t expect that I will be sending out any posts while we are gone, as we need a real and complete week off.

But before I left, I wanted to send you an initial reaction to the 2019 Roundhouse Legislative Session.  Overall, quite a few good bills were passed in the legislature, bills related the influence of money in politics, gun violence prevention, voter registration, education, minimum wage, tax reform, LGTBQ, Indigenous rights and other issue areas all had victories to claim.And in the last few days an astonishing number of legislative maneuvering has resulted in still more bills passed in a flurry of activity in the guise of amendments, memorials and substitute bills. It has been stunning. But there were also some gut wrenching defeats: both of our immigrant protection bills died, recreational marijuana never got a Senate Finance Committee hearing and died, HB-6 at one point a really tremendous tax reform and revenue increase bill was gutted by Senator Sanchez and then the knee bending vote to decriminalize abortion. I will cover the entire Roundhouse session in future blogs and in a Report Card we hope to finish by the second or third week of April. We will chronicle this session and we will not forget the votes that betrayed us.

Today, I have focused almost entirely on legislation related to climate change, as we feel that this is the most important issue, because we have no time for delays, no time for modest proposals. But before I do, one very general comment:  the NM Senate is GOP controlled.  Democrats may have a 26-16 majority, but many of those Democrats repeatedly trampled on Democratic Platform priorities and bills endorsed by Democratic leadership. Many of these Democrats hold positions of leadership and power in the Senate and they do not deserve to do so.

  • The Senate President Pro-Tem, Sen. Mary Kay Papen has undermined a staggering number of bills and also is responsible for assigning bills to committees, a critical role and one she does not deserve, however many decades she has been in the Senate;
  • Finance Committee Chair, Sen. John Arthur Smith has held many bills hostage by not even calling them for a hearing;
  • Judiciary Committee Chair, Senator Martinez also failed to support HB 210 Community Solar, HB 51 Decriminalize Abortion and held hostage two important bills in the last week by not calling them for a hearing;
  • Corporations and Transportation Chair, Clemente Sanchez derailed more good bills than any single legislator and he will be the focus of an entire blog when I return from vacation…..all four of these legislators voted against HB 51 Decriminalize Abortion.

How is it that these Democrats in Name Only deserve leadership roles in the legislature when their self-appointed purpose is to undermine so many important bills. Look for our Roundhouse 2019 Report Card to expose the degree to which the disappointment we all feel with this session rests with these four DINOs. It absolutely sickens me what they have done.

Unfortunately I must report that this is that in the single most issue facing the legislature–addressing climate change with bold plans— the legislature seriously under-performed and frankly so did the entire environmental community….and that includes Retake Our Democracy. For weeks, Retake focused, perhaps too much, on SB 489.  We did our best to have 489 amended, but a terrible bill worked its way through the legislature while so many critically important bills failed due to lack of Democratic leadership.  So today, I am going to focus on what didn’t get done in relation to climate change, gas, oil, fracking and other impacts on our land, air and water.

After hearing Dahr Jamail at the Lensic Theatre on Wednesday night and then reading from his Climate Disruption Dispatches, I am convinced that incremental change and compromise with gas, oil, and utility industries in order to achieve short-term gains has been nothing less than generational genocide. If you read even one of Jamail’s dispatches, you will see my point. While I have been told that Jamail’s analysis represents the worst case scenario, in his talk he described how, in truth, all scientific projections as to the pace of warming and of glacial melting, the acidification of the ocean, the extinction of insects, and the loss of coral reefs have all been outpaced by nature. Each report reiterates the same theme: this is moving much more quickly than we thought.

When our legislators compromise on minimum wage, people get an increase, if not the one we sought and we can then come back in two years and battle it out again. Ditto tax fixes, investments in early childhood, and an array of other issues. But physics doesn’t negotiate, the clock is ticking, and from what I saw in this session, we are behaving as if climate change is just another “issue.” In truth, it was worse than that, it isn’t that the legislature treated climate change like just another issue; they treated it like a non-issue and I have to think the cause of this was the influence of the gas and oil lobbyists and the money they throw around like confetti.

We can’t keep accepting what is defined as acceptable by the gas, oil and utility lobbyists, hoping that in another few years we will get something more. We can’t allow ourselves to accept heavily compromised bills in order to squeeze them through committees dominated by a quasi partnership between the GOP and moderate/conservative DINO Dems (above).  We must build our power and advance only bills that accomplish what is needed, not what is deemed practical or possible by others.

  • As long as bills must pass through a conservative group of Democrats in the Senate, we are not going to get enough done.
  • As long as PNM and New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) are deemed stakeholders with whom we must negotiate, we will never get done what needs to be done. Never. They have shareholders who have no skin in NM’s future and whose only concern is the next quarterly profit statement. They should no longer even be invited to the table. We need to meet together, define what we want and inform them as to how they now must behave. We need to set the terms and make the rules.

But we must be honest, we are not yet nearly powerful enough to set the terms upon which future discussions must be based. And we must have more power in committees, on the floor, in the hearings and on the phones.  In NM this session, historic allies split over whether to respond to the urgency of the crisis and the scale of action required or to respond to the pragmatics of the now. But as noted above, pragmatism is no longer an option in relation to climate change.

In fairness, we dis pass a very few bills that offer us very limited tools to expand renewables, a few tax credits, some very limited water protections, and perhaps a few more. In SB 489, we passed an historic RPS, funding for workers, internships, and remediation funds, all good things. A very good. RPS is important, and even if the eventual PNM bailout reaches $1B+, in truth, spread over 25 years, ratepayers may pay $25-$30/month. There are other ways to address that.

In the full context of climate change, however, an increase in RPS is almost meaningless if we continue to let G&O frack and drill the living hell out of the southeast of our state. The Permian Basin may be a state ATM, but exploiting it is also destroying the planet and RPS has very little to do with that. The ozone doesn’t care if NM curbs its own use of fossil fuels to light our homes (what RPS measures) if it is exporting gas and oil and emitting methane and CO2 to light the homes of folks in Iowa (what RPS does not measure). 

SB 489 achieved some good things, but not enough to warrant press conferences and high-fiving in the Rotunda.  We have to look at the session as a whole. And it is clear that we failed utterly and completely in relation to anything that has any impact on creating a just transition. And this points to an absence of focus, priorities, and power.

Let’s start with the fact that we have a legislature where the majority understand the science of climate change and the math involved in taxes and revenues. We are reliant on coal and gas for revenue, and yet there isn’t even a memorial or any funding to study how we could effect a just energy AND economic transition from gas and oil.  We can’t continue to treat climate change like a minimum wage increase or a tax fix. Survival is at stake. And we can’t counter NMGOA without a detailed plan of our own that includes how we can replace tax and revenue and job impacts. I suspect that such a planning bill was not introduced because it would offend NMGOA and be Dead On Arrival.  If our legislators fear offending NMGOA, we need new legislators.

As to how some important bills did this year:

  • SB 375 Local Choice Energy could have been truly game-changing, a way to challenge the utility monopoly and allow our cities, counties and tribes to develop or choose their own energy path. It never came to a vote. Never called to a vote in Senate Conservation.
  • SB 486. Oil Conservation Division Powers and Duties, calling for increase in penalties for leaking oil operations and to strengthen regulation of G&O, stalled in Senate Finance
  • SB 459 Hydraulic Fracturing Permits and Reports. A four year pause on fracking was never even discussed. Stuck in its first committee–Senate Conservation.
  • HB 206. Environmental Review Act, would have increased the power of the Environmental Improvement Board and increased its capacity to regulate G&O, stalled in House State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs.
  • SB 456 Electric Utility Resource Procurement.  Competitive procurement that could have ensured that monopoly utilities had to offer an even playing field for replacement power. Stuck in Senate Corporations.
  • HB 398 Oil, Gas and Vented Gas Royalties. This legislation raises the royalty rates for oil and gas companies profiting off of New Mexico’s land resources to 25% on leases in the top 6% of production. If a well hits 20,000 barrels of oil per month, it would trigger the 25% royalty rate. Killed in House Commerce and Economic Development with three Democrats voting to table the bill. 
  • HB 210 Community Solar would provide cities, counties, tribes, and businesses a way to choose solar instead of what utility monopolies offer, stalled in Senate Judiciary.
  • HM 84 Support for the Green New Deal, stalled at first committee, never heard, House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources….in defense of this committee, HM 84 was introduced very late and at a time when there was a rush to move bills through.

It may be that at the last minute one or another of these bills will squeak through, but by any measure a good deal did not get done. Every effort to strengthen our regulations, raise our royalties, or penalize G&O for leaks were met with cries from G&O lobbyists that it would destroy the industry, that they would move to Texas, and that the sky would fall. Well, the sky will indeed fall, but not because of limiting gas and oil, but because we don’t have the vision, the plan and the courage to keep it in the ground. By any account, our failure to pass virtually any bills opposed by G&O is staggering.

All of the bills above were killed with votes from Democrats or were simply never heard in committees chaired by Democrats. It will take some time to sort this all out and attribute responsibility where it belongs. But at the very least, responsibility rests with the Governor, those in House and the Senate leadership, and many Committee Chairs particularly in the Senate. They make committee assignments and designate chairs, they assign bills to committee and they wield influence in many unseen, subtle ways. If you want to see what happens when Democratic Party leadership wants a bill to pass, check out the path of SB 489: Energy Transition Act.

  • 2.26. Passed Senate Conservation
  • 3.5.  Passed Senate Corporations and Transportation
  • 3.6.  Passed Senate
  • 3.7.  Sent to House Judiciary
  • 3.11  Passed Judiciary
  • 3.12.  Voted on House floor,

Two weeks from start to finish and with only one Senate committee assignment.  Greased.

In 2021, when I am writing about the close of the session, I hope I have list of almost no bills that stalled and 8-10 impactfulenergy bills that worked their way past the scrutiny of lobbyists for G&O. Look for more on this when we return.  And thank you to all who worked so hard this session. We learned a good deal; with our allies we got many good bills through; and based upon the countless emails we’ve received many, many of you have been engaged for the first time. And I am quite confident, not for the last.

We have little time, much to do and not nearly enough power. So, as your final action of the 2019 session, contact a couple friends. Tell them about your experience and invite them to subscribe to this blog retakeourdemocracy.org and to sign up for the Statewide Alert Network at retakeresponsenetwork.org. We need many more of us if we are going to replace some of the DINOs above enjoy far more success in 2021.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne


Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use & Wildlife, Local-State Government & Legislation

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9 replies

  1. Thank you for doing an incredible job of keeping us informed. Your posts are invaluable. Thank you for exposing the 4 DINO’s. NM continues to be mired in the fossil fuel culture which is an addiction hard to break, but it will happen albeit a little late to garner the status of being a front runner with all the benefits that would have been brought with it.

  2. I am one of those awestruck by your leadership during this session. Nobody else compares, though the Sierra Club and Indivisible did good work. I can’t thank you enough. Have a great rest. You are my s/heroes. On the failure of oil and gas measures, I have to say that climate change may be the main reason for concern, but I have been critical of this industry for sixty years or more. There are many other reasons to take them down. Yes, it is a David and Goliath fight, but there is almost none other worth fighting, for our future. Am I optimistic? No. But if you still have the energy, I’m with you.


  4. I send such deep gratitude to you, Roxanne and the Roundhouse Team.

  5. THANK YOU for a fabulous job, Paul and Roxanne. The emails that you sent out were so helpful. I personally sent out over 250 emails on various bills because you made it so easy. I also made phone calls, again because you provided all the information to do so. I can’t leave my home to go to the RH but I felt so involved this year and involved others, as well.
    We’ll be back in 2021 and we will be campaigning as those DINO’s come up for re-election. They don’t deserve to be in the RH. They don’t represent New Mexicans best interests!!!!!

  6. My thanks to you both. Excellent job. You deserve a disconnected rest. It’s said the first week of a vacation allows you to unwind so you can begin to replenish. Hope you get even more time. I read your daily posts and emailed my legislators, but couldn’t attend the RH because I’m recovering from a total knee replacement. I wouldn’t have known what to lobby for without you.
    Re: SB 489 – I read the heavily amended version after it passed the Senate. All 85 pages … great when you can’t sleep;). That amended version kept the lofty renewable standards, repeatedly put the PRC in charge of section after section of the bill, and specified the detailed content of filings with the PRC for any rate changes. So we may have gotten what we wanted. And lack of publicity may have helped that. If so, thanks go to Peter Wirth and Brian Egolf.

  7. The kids who marched on Friday had it right, we adults just don’t get it. The whole session was “business as usual”, there was no passion for real change in committees and on the floors. There are only ten or eleven years left! Will O&G ever understand what they are doing to Planet Earth? Maybe a decade from now when it is too late.

  8. HM 84 – “Support for a Green New Deal” was ready to go a few weeks into the session. It wasn’t “introduced late”. House leadership didn’t want it introduced. Through great effort we were able to have it get enough co-sponsors to override their discouragement and have it listed in committee.

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