Bills with torturously unclear titles, late meeting announcements, bipartisan votes in every hearing, civil debate, and dignified discussions, good bills being slammed with industry misinformation and bad bills described in terms like economic justice, and renewables. It is all Roundhouse Stew.
It’s Half Time. Where Do We Stand?
Today, we assess where we stand mid-way through the session. As with any session, at the midpoint almost nothing of importance has actually moved through two chambers and to the Governor’s desk. most all the bills we support, still have a chance to pass and all could die at any time. We are halfway to the end of a euphoric session or a catastrophic one. Among the trends we are noting:
- Dignified respectful discussions, with folks disagreeing largely in civil tones. And I haven’t seen any nasty exchanges or even many snide remarks;
- Bipartisan votes are common and votes strictly along party lines are more rare than usual.
- Very often, Republicans appear to be offering principled, reasoned arguments opposing bills they oppose,
- These three items stand in stark contrast to the US Congress and past Roundhouse sessions;
- Unless I missed it, Zoom is being used in all committee hearings vastly expanding the ability of constituents from remote parts of the state to participate.
- What’s more, committees seem better able to manage Zoom involvement and the sound quality is much improved and more consistent than last year.
- Many bills that in the past struggled to gain traction (think gun violence and water) are doing surprisingly, with passing an assault weapon ban looking achievable.
- Sadly, among all those upbeat observations, deception and misinformation still run rampant, a focal point of today’s commentary on the first half of the session.
Misinformation & Deception
At this point, so much depends upon how swiftly bills move or how completely bad bills are killed. Recall last session and the Hydra-headed Hydrogen Hub legislation, with Hydrogen bills popping up in various forms, only to be quickly defeated and then re-emerge under a different bill title. That experience has informed our review of bills, as we must examine the details deep within bills to see what lurks beneath the surface. Where has the hydrogen, gas and oil industry or utilities industry planted a cancerous clause in a benign looking bill? And there are certainly candidates for bills worthy of deep scrutiny.
HB 174 Underground Injection Fund, introduced by Reps. Meredith Dixon and Nathan Small, inserts a new section into the Water Quality Act to create the Underground Injection Control Fund. HB 174 appropriates $2.4 million to support CO2 sequestration projects (used to inject CO2, a byproduct of hydrogen production, deep underground) and the staff needed to operate an underground injection control program. The fund is to be administered by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) and would be used to carry out a statewide underground injection control program. The bill seeks $1M a year to hire staff and consultants to advance the work. HB 174 Fiscal Impact Report states clearly that NM has been advancing pilot carbon sequestration projects, despite multiple legislative rejections of hydrogen production. This bill is intended to institutionalize state funding for hydrogen development and facilitate NM in securing federal funds to expand the work. We strongly oppose this bill, but after somehow getting through House Environment Energy and Natural Resources, it gets a free pass in House Appropriations & Finance where the bill sponsor, Rep. Nathan Small is Chair of one of the most conservative committees in the Roundhouse, We will begin communicating with House members as soon as the bill gets to HAFC . Get talking points at this link. Read HB 174 at this link.
HB12. Advanced Energy Technology Act. This may be one of those wolf in sheep’s clothing bills that take so much time to sort out and verify if there are nefarious forces at play. The bill is being advanced by Power4NM, a coalition that includes some very progressive, people-focused organizations like the Native American Voters Alliance, Ole and Somos Un Pueblo Unido, so there is credablity in their membership. And the bill is sponsored by Reps. Kristina Ortez an Angelica Rubio, two pretty solid legislators. Unfortunately, and of great concern it is also sponsored by the two most prominent hydrogen advocates, Reps. Patty Lundstrom and Nathan Small.(red flags flying here). While purporting to set up a fund to be used in support of “advanced energy technology,” a closer review reveals potential problems. Big ones.
The real intent of the bill may be buried in the definition of “advanced energy technology.’ In defining the kinds of projects that might be considered “advanced,” we find: “carbon capture, sequestration, transport utilization and storage systems.” CCS is at the heart of all grey hydrogen production, as the economic and environmental viability of hydrogen production rests with successful sequestration of CO2, something that has never worked anywhere in the world. It pays to read the fine print. For more on the folly of hydrogen production, see below.
At a Sierra Club legislative round up on Friday, Camilla Feibelman, flagged HB 12 as a bill where they have heard concerns, but noted that since the bill was being advanced by organizations representing impacted communities, she felt we should withhold judgment until we hear from them. Fair enough, but Retake will watch this bill closely, as if you look at the language in the bill it looks suspect., to say the least. Wouldn’t it be great if Lundstrom, Small, Kinney, Probst and MLG identified solar, wind, geothermal and storage as “advanced energy technology” and instead of pursuing the gas & oil industry’s pet project and lifeboat: hydrogen, pouring personnel and funding into expanding our renewable energy production efforts.
HB431. Local Government Utility Service Restrictions. On Saturday, the NM Political Report broke a story on a disingenuous bill we need to oppose. “Bill preventing cities, counties from banning fuel sources passes committee,” describes how HB431 is purportedly about preserving local autonomy, while deftly doing just the reverse. This bill that had flown under our radar, but appears to be a bill designed to undermine local jurisdictions from implementing Local Choice Energy, should it pass into law..
HB 431 is sponsored by Rep. Martin Zamora, R-Clovis, and Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants. It narrowly passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Saturday on a 6-5 vote with Democrats Rep. Cynthia Borrego and Miguel Garcia, both of Albuquerque, voting with the Republicans to pass the bill.
What Is Wrong with HB431?
Proponents laid out the usual fear-based falsehoods underlying how without this bill
- counties will ban gas stoves;
- limits will be placed on access to gas or propane;
- residents will be forced to give up their gas stoves;
- residents will be forced to switch to more expensive renewable energy;
- the sky will fall.
First of all, there is no such thing as ‘more expensive renewable energy,”
Also, under Local Choice Energy, communities and residents will not be “forced” to do anything. They will be afforded choices. But there is much more wrong with this bill.
Committee Chairman Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, argued that the fears that people will no longer be able to access gas to heat their homes are unfounded.
“No one’s coming for your gas stove,” McQueen said. “No one’s banning gas stoves. No one’s going into people’s houses and telling them to change out their utilities.”
The City of Santa Fe’s lobbyist, J.D. Bullington, explained that Santa Fe believes that HB 431 is inappropriate and would prohibit the city from making decisions about the type of power that it wants to purchase and provide to its residents.
The bill comes as the Legislature is considering a Local Choice Energy bill that would allow jurisdictions to begin generating or purchasing its own electricity to provide to residents. Bullington said the City of Santa Fe supports Local Choice Energy and asserts that it, and other municipalities, believe strongly in using only renewable energy.
So there are bills that may sound good on the surface, but in the end are industry ploys to feather their nests. What else is new? Nest feathering is the job of industry lobbyists.
Speaking of Local Choice Energy–
Industry Misinformation Clouds Prospects
In keeping with today’s theme of misinformation in the Roundhouse, we shift to Local Choice Energy, a genuinely tremendous piece of legislation advancing a proven energy policy, but encountering frantic industry opposition.
It is so difficult to listen to a hearing on a bill you support and hear the bill sponsors and expert witnesses put on a compelling argument for passing the bill, with their argument buffered by facts, data, research and testimony from experts with direct experience with the policy and who offer cogent arguments that anticipate and counter opposition assertions to come, only to then hear opposition make their specious claims as if none of the research and data undermining their claims, had just been offered. It is still more difficult to then hear legislators repeat industry misinformation or describe how they are wanting to support the legislation, but worry about the concerns raised. What concerns? Fictitious ones raised by paid lobbyists intent on protecting their industry clients, truth and the public be damned.
In Senate Conservation Committee that is precisely what happened. First bill sponsors carefully described how communities are served by Local Choice Energy or Community Choice Aggregation, as it is known in the 8 states in which CCAs exist. We heard how rates in those communities are consistently lower, how service is more reliable with outages far less frequent than in communities served by Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) and we heard how CCA communities enjoy use of a far higher proportion of renewable energy in their utility mix than do communities served by IOUs and how profits are reinvested in communities, not shipped off to Wall St.
When opponents had their turn, we first heard from the Bernalillo County Chamber of Commerce who spoke of how the small business community needs reliable rates and reliable service to grow their business. She couldn’t have offered a better argument FOR Local Choice Energy, but then the punch line “because of this we oppose Local Choice Energy,’ spoken, as if bill sponsors hadn’t just outlined that LCE delivers precisely what the Chamber seeks: lower rates and more reliable service. Then lobbyists for the utilities spoke of their deep concern about how LCE programs would not meet energy needs at night when the sun doesn’t shine, ignoring that none of the ten states that have authorized CCA by 2020 have as much solar potential as NM and yet, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Virginia all have implemented CCA without suffering from unreliable electricity or higher rates. Facts matter or at least they should.
Then we heard from labor who worried that their members would lose jobs or would be forced into lower paying jobs, despite there being no evidence of any of the 1800 communities served by CCAs experiencing an influx of low-wage, out-of-state workers conducting CCA work instead of local workers.
Lets be clear, Retake Our Democracy supports raising the minimum wage, paid family and medical leave. We support increasing teacher salaries and salaries for the most underpaid “workers” in the state, our unpaid legislators. We are not going to support any bill that would encourage, or allow the use of scab labor. And we honor the unions who for over a century have protected workers from industry exploitation.
To hopefully allay labor concerns, I asked Laila Atalla, one of our crackerjack volunteer researchers, to see what she could find. Two days later, the summary below was forwarded to me.
Labor and Local Choice Energy
Local choice energy/community choice aggregation (CCA) can directly support local jobs in four main ways:
1. Renewable energy project construction
2. Renewable energy project operations and maintenance
3. Program administration
4. Energy efficiency and other demand side programs
To maximize the local job benefits that result from implementing Local Choice Energy, it is essential to be developing renewable power projects in New Mexico. Fortunately, New Mexico is well situated to host numerous new renewable energy generation projects to supply emerging LCEs with the wind and solar energy they desire.
To put numbers to the points above, the most useful resource I’ve found is this 2016 report by the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). The study estimates the potential workforce impacts of a new local choice energy program, CleanPowerSF, and reviews actual job impacts from three existing programs. For example, the following table (page 6) shows construction and operations and maintenance jobs supported by Marin Clean Energy in its first five years.
For CleanPowerSF, the report estimated how many construction and operations and maintenance jobs would be supported per $1 million spent (page 3):
The LAFCO report shows that CCA programs typically increase the number of construction jobs they support over time as they grow and begin developing more renewable energy generation projects. Keep in mind that from 2012 through 2014, California had just one CCA program, CCAs have developed rapidly since 2014. Construction jobs are more numerous than operations and maintenance or program administration jobs, but do not last as long. However, clearly as CCA programs mature, LCE providers demand for more local renewable energy, which creates increasing market demand for new generation projects with increasing numbers of construction jobs. Note also, that in NM IOUs would continue to transmit LCE energy to customers, so jobs maintaining the grid will remain unchanged.
Finally, the LAFCO report shows that local choice energy programs can also support ongoing energy efficiency jobs. Since CCA programs are not beholden to shareholders, profits can be reinvested in energy efficiency or “demand side” programs and other services to benefit community members. Reinvestment in these community programs can directly support additional jobs. Analysis by the UCLA Luskin Center shows that some CCAs directly invest in workforce education and training, expanding access to jobs in the clean energy economy, which the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program has found offer higher pay and more equitable wage distribution than other industries.
In short, while we respect union concerns, we hope that information like what is provided above, helps assure them that their members will be respected and gainfully employed in an LCE environment.
Depending upon how some of the bills for which we are most ardently advocating do, we will be celebrating on March 18 or drowning our tears. Likely a little bit of both, as on the plus side:
- it looks very much like the Roundhouse is taking seriously the water crisis, with water bills and significant funding for water projects both sailing along.
- Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare bills are also moving along easily.
- Creating an Independent Redistricting Commission is encountering little opposition and mostly bipartisan support.
- Remarkably, most all of the gun violence prevention bills continue to advance, including an assault weapon ban.
- Even Sen Steinborn’s bill to prevent Holtec from making NM the nation’s nuclear sacrifice zone, is moving rapidly, encountering far less opposition than last year.
- Lastly, despite a robust surplus, bills to make the tax code more progressive and more productive have advanced, along with the child tax credit’s big increase also doing well.
In any other year, that would be more than enough to celebrate, if not for the inconvenient truth of a climate crisis. Here the news is less postive.
- Serious climate legislation to more effectively regulate gas, oil, and produced water leaks is stalled or dead;
- The Green Amendment and Local Choice Energy are both experiencing withering industry-fueled misinformation campaigns. While both are alive and kicking. the path forward looks fraught with hazards.
- And then there are the nefarious bills described at the top of this post, which promise a hydrogen-fest in NM, despite abundant evidence of the ultimate doom of the effort.
So, we will continue to forge on, will counter misinformation, as best we can and whack at the hydrogen hydra heads as they appear. In 30 days we’ll take stock and hopefully have more to celebrate than to bemoan
Hang in there and stay active. It is the only way we can fix this mess.
Onward & Let’s Huddle Up on Weds
New Mexico is still solidly blue, so let’s keep pressing to get more transformational legislation passed! We will have updates on bills we are supporting and discuss 2023 advocacy strategy. We also want to hear from those of you who have been involved in interim hearings or have been working with allies to prepare for the session. We welcome your ideas about bills worth supporting and about how we can all be more successful advocates.
Weds. Feb 15, 6-7pm. Due to illness, we cancelled this huddle. Back next week. See below.
Weds., Feb. 22,6-7pm. Click here to register. You must register to attend.
In solidarity & hope,
Paul & Roxanne
Categories: Local-State Government & Legislation