Thursday’s hearing on the Hydrogen Hub bill was one of the most interesting hearings I’ve ever watched, with moments when I was sure we would lose, and then things turned around quickly. It was riveting from start to finish, with so many twists and turns. In the end, the GOP saved the day. Wow!
To Begin At the Beginning
The sponsors of HB 4 Hydrogen Hub Development Act were given all the time they wanted to lay out their bill and they had cabinet secretaries in queue to support whatever was said. Rep. Nathan Small and Rep. Patty Lundstrom did a masterful job of laying out their plan, albeit with a whole bunch of misinformation and deception. But their argument relied largely on the viability of carbon sequestration which has never been achieved to scale, as the article in this link outlines. It just can’t work, after billions of dollars spent trying.
It was hard to listen to Nathan Small talk about how we should trust the NM Environment Dept. to ensure that methane is not leaked in this process. He even stated repeatedly how NM is an “international leader” in methane containment. I suppose he hasn’t heard about the massive methane cloud over Four Corners or about the methane being uncontrollably spewed from the Permian Basin.
So, while the presentation was impressive, it strayed very far from the truth and used obscure terms like “enhanced oil recovery,” that when cobbled together were hard to track. Numerous questions about the viability of sequestration were not responded to with examples of successful sequestration, but with torturous language about the nuances of federal tax credits for sequestration.
Once the sponsors were done, we heard another 45 minutes of comments in support, with the majority of supporters coming from Exxon, Tallgrass, NM Oil & Gas Association, Chevron, Nexterra, (all fossil fuel companies), and various chambers of commerce and Gallup-based businesses. The presence of so many gas & oil operatives was telling for a bill whose stated purpose is to reduce emissions. Of course, the bill itself is anything but a bill about reducing emissions. Indeed, as the bill itself outlines, its definition of “clean” is anything but clean, allowing for megatons of carbon and methane release.
So while it was hard to listen, it was important to try to digest what they all had to say to be better able to counter those falsehoods. I think I will have to watch the whole damn thing again, taking detailed notes cuz things moved fast and this ain’t over.
By the time we got to opposing public comment, I was not at all optimistic. But it was time for 45 minutes of opposition comment. The public comment was well-informed and offered powerful, pointed comment on how:
- the bill’s own definitions made it clear that the hydrogen proposed was anything but clean;
- the technology upon which the hub relies (carbon sequestration) is unproven at best;
- indigenous communities were never asked to the table; and
- the true beneficiaries are the fossil fuel industry, which was validated by their being so prominent among supporters.
Camilla Feibelman from Sierra Club offered strong early testimony, followed by telling remarks from Tom Solomon from 350NM, Seneca Johnson from YUCCA ,and Krystal Curley from Our Indigenous Lifeways. I am leaving out tons of folks who offered well-informed, powerful comment in opposition. We even heard from a rep. from the League of Women Voters. But for me the most powerful statement came from Duane “Chili” Yazzie, President of the Shiprock Chapter House of the Navajo Nation. He spoke of how this proposal was like burning a candle from both ends, with methane flare and economic development burning on one end and the planet burning on the other end. He closed by stating that when the two ends meet, all we will have is darkness. It was powerful that spoke to the heart of the problem: the feds and states are in a frenzied race to construct any possible twisted logic to allow and encourage growth, when curbing growth is exactly what we need to do if we aren’t going to burn our candle on both ends
At this point we went back to Rep Nathan Small, who attempted to rebut opposition comments with tax-credit double-speak compounded by more double-speak. When he ran out of gas, we returned to the committee for their discussion and questions.
This is when it got really interesting. We heard first from Rep. Miguel Garcia, who told a long story about how back in 1999 he had explored desalinization and how he is “a big fan of hydrogen.” It sounded as if he was leaning toward supporting the bill. And expecting that the four GOP Reps. would be solid in support, we knew we couldn’t lose two Dems. And Rep. Meredith Dixon was said to be a solid supporter, so I thought we were lost. But then Rep. Garcia abruptly shifted the focus of his comment, indicating that the bill doesn’t include desalination, but a carbon-based process with significant methane emissions. By the time he was done, he indicated he was opposed. I almost fell out of my chair.
But that shift was nothing compared to what followed immediately after. GOP Rep. Larry Scott was next, so I was expecting statements of support for anything that would create jobs and strengthen the gas and oil industry.
Wow, was I wrong! He started with his concerns about the local economy, but then he shredded the bill on a number of issues, beginning with the concern that we would be investing in a technology that would not mature, but would soon be obsolete. He then took aim at the lack of evidence that sequestration actually works. Small’s response was entirely focused on how the feds are offering funds to incentivize capture technology, but he never addressed whether it could work. As Scott rounded out his critique, he focused on how the form of hydrogen the Gov’s hub would produce would be very, very expensive and would require ongoing state funding to make it work financially. He also asserted that it appeared as if the private sector would not be required to invest any funds, but it would be the state who would be putting up all the money in what he viewed as a very risky investment. He covered a variety of other concerns suggesting his opposition. What a stunning and unexpected performance from Rep. Scott.
Democratic Rep. Kristina Ortez then asked a series of questions about how the hydrogen process works and noted how the bill would allow dirty or blue hydrogen. Sec. Kinney (NM Environment Dept.) waltzed around this, saying that if we produce blue hydrogen, then we would qualify for sequestration tax credits but not the hydrogen tax credits, as if Rep. Ortez was only interested in tax credits instead of the climate. Throughout the hearing, questions about emissions were responded to with borderline incomprehensible double-talk.
Democratic Rep. Debra Sariñana was next, and she immediately noted that a newspaper report published Thursday outlined how gas & oil has abandoned wells that will cost the state $8B to remediate. And then she questioned why we would be giving those same bad players tax credits.
Republican Rod Montoya was next to ask questions mostly about the Federal grant program. He dissed environmentalists (surprise) and clearly seemed to lean toward supporting the Hydrogen Hub.
Next up, was Dem. Rep. Pamelya Herndon, who opened with how she was struck by how all public comments in support of the bill were representatives of those business interests who would profit financially from the bill, while those in opposition came from the community with no vested interest, including many comments from indigenous communities. She went on to suggest that this process needed to circle back and re-engage those who had not been at the table.
Dem. Rep. Meredith Dixon was up next and this was tough to listen to. Dixon seemed to be simply asking one softball question after another, allowing the sponsors to continue offering their disingenuous rationalizations for trusting that they understood the technology and that it would all work in the end.
At this point, Chair Matthew McQueen asked a series of questions that I wasn’t able to hear as I had a tele-health appointment. From others, I heard his comments were compelling and, throughout the 6-hour hearing, Chair McQueen facilitated the process in an unbiased, even-handed manner. When I returned it was time to vote, with the result very much up in the air. No one could have predicted what ensued.
Rep. Montoya (R) introduced a “do pass” motion and before a second from Rep. Dixon could be offered, Rep. James Strickler (R), who to this point had not uttered a word, interrupted to introduce a motion to “table.” Tabling motions take precedence; the motion was seconded and I missed by whom because I was so stunned at what was unfolding.
The vote on the motion to “table” was then taken, with Reps. Strickler, Townsend, Montoya, and Scott (all GOP) and Dem. Garcia voting “yes,” with Rep. Dixon (D) voting “no” to table. So it was 5-1 in support of tabling, with two Dem. Reps who “passed” (Herndon and Ortez) and Vice Chair Sariñana and Chair McQueen yet to vote. Then Reps Herndon, Ortez, and Sariñana voted “no” to table, resulting in a 5-4 margin to table with only Chair McQueen to vote. A tie vote would have tabled the bill, so McQueen’s vote was not critical to tabling the bill, but he voted to table, the bill was tabled, the meeting was adjourned, and a stunned Rep. Lundstrom and Rep. Small gathered their papers.
After the hearing, I checked in with Rep. McQueen who stressed “This isn’t over.” And checking in with Sierra Club’s Camilla Feibelman, she concurred with that assessment. My gut tells me that with a short session, a motion to “untable” will surface within a week. But that gives us time to hone our messaging.
We will send an Alert about our next steps on HB 4, but the highest priority is to reach out to Rep. Brittney Barreras (D), who was excused (absent) on Thursday, and ensure that she is a strong “no.” Some of the same GOP members who voted to table will almost certainly vote to support this bill. After all, Rep. Montoya introduced the “do pass” motion in the first place, so it is odd he then supported the tabling. He did “explain” his vote by saying he’d be willing to work with the sponsors to amend the bill. I think it would be worth thanking Rep. Larry Scott (R) and reaching out to all GOP Reps. to reinforce Scott’s skepticism that this is a huge tax giveaway with no certainty at all of a return. Lastly, among the Dems., Rep. Dixon appears unmovable, but if you are in her district or if you know her, a dialog would be good. In her comments, Dem. Rep. Sariñana made it clear that her constituents were hugely opposed and she was paying attention. She is also most concerned about whether carbon sequestration was possible and/or had proven effective anywhere else. I linked an article about sequestration at the top of this post, but am going to look for others.
In any case, this is not over by any means, and we need to use the weekend to educate our legislators on this complex issue. A vote on a “do pass” with even a few GOPs in support could easily have resulted in the bill moving forward, and this is far and away our best hope to put it to rest. We need every possible Dem. vote.
Are we having fun yet? Retake supporter Ralph Wrons submitted a comment about the hearing in our “Hydrogen Hub or Hydrogen Hype?” blog post, saying how intense this was as political theater and how he wore a deep impression in his chair, he was so glued to the proceedings. So true.
This morning I’ll be speaking up for Basic Income when HM 22 Study Low-Income Basic Income is heard in House Health and Human Services, and then I’m hopping on to Sen. Health and Public Affairs to speak up for SB 43 Prohibiting Life Without Parole for a Child, while developing bill summaries for a few other bills.
I acknowledge Roxanne often, but I want to again now. While I am sitting in hearings, she is working furiously to prepare bill summaries and Alerts. Without her tireless efforts, we’d have a list of bills and no speaking points or Alerts describing when and how to offer comment. She often comments about how much I love the legislative session, the hearings, and the dialog with legislators before, during and after hearings. And she is right, non-stop adrenaline, but without Roxanne, it would be non-stop panic. Thank you, Roxxanne.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne