Dems go to war to regulate gas and oil. NOT. The post focuses on SB 546 the “produced” water bill, the bill amended at 3am on the last day of the session with 9 minutes of debate. Amazing what can get done when you have NM Gas & Oil Assoc.is pushing. Sen. JA Smith introduces the state budget bill with “Drill Baby, Drill.” We have a very long way to go, my friends.
What “One of the Greatest Environmental Bills in NM History” Looks Like and How It Passed
Going into the 2019 Legislative Session I think many progressives had big ideas about raising the minimum wage, investing in early childhood, and perhaps most of all, passing some historic environmental legislation. To hear Sierra Club, CVNM, 350NM and Speaker Egolf tell it, we did. But truly historic environmental legislation would have made New Mexico Oil & Gas Association amxious. They needn’t have worried.. As Senate Finance Committee Chair and Speaker Egolf made sure that the NMOGA, PNM and El Paso Electric slept well.
When presenting the state budget bill for a vote, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, declared, “Drill, baby, drill.” And Speaker Egolf noted at a post session press conference: “We started off with a lot of rhetoric from the other side that there’s a war on oil and gas, and I said early on that the war on oil and gas is a figment of the imagination of the other party,” Egolf said. “I still believe that to be true.” He kept his word as none of these key environmental bills went far, with only one of the bills getting a floor vote in either chamber and that bill HB 210 Community Solar Act, stalled quickly in its first Senate hearing. The rest of these important environmental bills went nowhere.
- HB 210 Community Solar Act, would allow individuals to buy energy from locally developed solar arrays, enabling renters and homeowners to purchase solar power without the cost of installation. This bill was killed in the House in 2017 because three Democrats missed the vote. SB 96 received “strongly approve” or “approve” from 92% of 1,300 New Mexicans in our 2018 survey. STATUS: Passed House Energy & Natural Resources on 1/24, House Judiciary on 2/11, and full House on 2/18 by 42:25. Passed Senate Conservation 3/12; stalled in Senate Judiciary.
- SB 186 Oil Conservation Division Powers & Duties would increase penalties for gas and oil spills to be comparable with neighboring states. Penalties have not been increased in decades and the instances of spills has increased significantly over the years. Received “strongly approve” from 78% and “approve” from 15% in our 2018 survey of 1,300 New Mexicans. STATUS: Passed by Senate Conservation on 2/21, Senate Judiciary on 3/2; stuck in Senate Finance. Word is Rep. McQueen introduced HB 680 to replace it, but that’s stalled in House Energy, Env. & Natural Resources.
- SB 275 Increase Renewable Portfolio Standards. SB 275 would increase the existing RPS to 50% renewable energy produced by NM utilities by 2030 and 80% by 2040. While Retake Our Democracy supports this bill we will advocate for an 80% RPS by 2030 and 100% by 2040. STATUS: Sent to Senate Conservation on 1/21; no action ever.
- HB 206 Environmental Review Act. The bill provides rule-making authority to the Environmental Improvement Board and defines the powers and duties of state agencies to conduct environmental reviews and prepare environmental impact statements for all development and construction projects that would have significant impact on the environment. STATUS: Passed House Energy & Natural Resources on 2/4; stalled in House State Govt, Elections & Indian Affairs.
- SB 374 Local Choice Energy Act. The bill would allow local jurisdictions and tribes to develop, produce, distribute and sell renewable energy. Retake Our Democracy and New Energy Economy feel this bill could be a game changer, essentially breaking the monopolies enjoyed by privately held utilities like PNM. If you want to achieve a higher RPS, we need to pass this bill. STATUS: Stuck in Senate Conservation, never even heard..
- SB 456 Electric Utility Resource Procurement SB 456 directs investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to solicit competitive bids from other independent power companies when adding or replacing electricity-generating power. A transparent competitive resource procurement process would be established and would be monitored by an independent evaluator. STATUS: Passed Senate Conservation on 2/19. Stuck in Senate Corporations & Transportation..
- SB 489 Energy Transition Act. This is a very complex and important bill. We can’t support it as written. It needs several amendments. With the amendments that our ally New Energy Economy has provided to the bill sponsors, we would wholeheartedly support this bill. But we are not optimistic the amendments will be incorporated. STATUS: No problem; PNM was happy, so of course it moved quickly.
- SB 459 Hydraulic Fracturing Permits and Reporting. SB 459 would impose a four year moratorium, or pause, on the issuance of fracking permits to allow the state to conduct an assessment of the scale and impact of current fracking operations. STATUS: Stuck in Senate Conservation, never heard.
But HB 546 sailed through both chambers with nary a debate. No wonder it moved quickly, it was supported by Marathon Oil, ConocoPhillips, XTO Energy, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association,and the New Mexico Business Coalition. And Speaker Egolf who gushed “The produced water bill, I think, is going to go down as one of the greatest environmental accomplishments to come out of the state legislature of New Mexico,” Egolf said. “Just the quantity of fresh, potable water that’s going to be saved for agricultural and municipal use is breathtaking.”
Certainly, southeastern NM has a serious need to preserve water. And fracking consumed 40 billion gallons of water in 2018. But while bill advocates point to how HB 546 would allow fracking operations to treat and reuse fracked water, language in the bill also would allow the use of this water for agricultural or even for public consumption. The reuse of produced water for further fracking MIGHT be okay, but permit me a bit of skepticism over its use for anything else because of who oversees the testing and use of this water: The Oil Conservation Division of the Energy and Natural Resources Department. Well, the problem is that the Oil Conservation Division’s primary objective is to advance oil and gas extraction and their new director is a former exec for Marathon Oil. Sort of like the fox minding the hen house.
From a recent report in In Depth: “In the fracking process water is laced with fracking chemicals, as well as chemicals and metals freed with the fossil fuels, including naturally occurring radioactivity. The water is considered industrial waste and disposed of in deep injection wells.”
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft white paper assessed the state of research on produced water and concluded “there remain important scientific questions related to the human health and environmental implications of using treated produced water for applications outside the oil and natural gas industry.” It cautions, “treated produced water could contain chemical constituents that may harm human health, but that are not regulated by the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.” More troubling is that according to that report, the NMED has no mechanism to require testing for those contaminants. Red flags all over the place, but the legislature with a not so subtle push from NMOGA, forged on.
And Sierra Club and other mainstream enviro organizations have been doing backflips in delight over HB 546. Fortunately, we have some environmental leaders who are more willing to stand up to NMOGA. “This bill is the first of its kind in the nation in opening the door for the oil and gas industry to commodify their radioactive waste, and under the guise of conservation, sell their waste back to New Mexicans as water,” Rebecca Sobel, with WildEarth Guardians, said via email. “There are some good things in this bill, but the bill overall insinuates that there’s a future for using produced water for non-fracking purposes, which is beyond premature at this point.”
I’ll go further, where is the environmental organization willing to propose what is actually needed: we keep it in the ground. Thank you, Sen. Sedilla Lopez for having the courage to introduce SB 459, a bill that would have created a four year moratorium on fracking statewide. Thank you Antoinette.
Paul & Roxanne