Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

The green bandwagon is rolling around the state as New Mexico Green Amendment supporters are gearing up for the 2022 legislative session. Driving the wagon is a growing coalition of legislators, community, faith, environmental and indigenous leaders, organizations and individuals, pledging their intention to co-sponsor and support a Green New Mexico in 2022. The coalition of supporters is pooling its resources to get the Green Amendment on the ballot in the next general election.

“We see despoilment and unprecedented extraction preying on the sacred lands of Indigenous communities across our state and the U.S. Addressing and mitigating the impending climate catastrophe threatening our future will require us to use every single tool we have at our disposal—including passing a Green Amendment,” stated supporter Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo with YUCCA Action (Youth United 4 Climate Crisis Action).

Green Amendments are self-executing provisions added to the bill of rights section of a constitution that recognize and protect the rights of all people—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or income, including future generations—to pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments.

The amendment was first proposed by State Senator Bill Soules (D-Doña Ana), Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Bernalillo), Senator Harold Pope Jr. (D-Bernalillo) and Representative Joanne Ferrary (D-Doña Ana) during the 2021 legislative session. While the amendment passed out of the Senate Rules Committee with majority support, it didn’t make it to a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, so it failed to advance. Key senators are making the amendment a priority for the 2022 passage.

The Joint Resolution for 2022 consideration proposes amending the New Mexico State Constitution’s Bill of Rights to recognize and protect the rights of all of the people of New Mexico “to a clean and healthy environment, including water, air, soil, flora, fauna, ecosystems and climate, and to the preservation of the natural, cultural, scenic and healthful qualities of the environment”; to ensure these rights are protected for present and future generations; and to designate all the state’s government officials as trustees of the natural resources of the state constitutionally obligated to “conserve, protect and maintain” them.

At this point legislators supporting the amendment include Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Rep. Joanne Ferrary, Sen. Harold Pope Jr., Sen. Bill Soules, Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, Sen. Carrie Hamblen, Rep. Tara Lujan, Sen. Shannon Pinto, Rep. Andrea Romero, Rep. Karen Bash, Rep. Debbie Sarinana, Rep. Roger Montoya, Sen. Linda Lopez, Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, Sen. Bill Tallman, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, Rep. Kay Bounkeua, Rep. Christine Trujillo, Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson and Rep. Gail Chasey.

If the amendment secures a majority vote in each of the legislative houses, the N.M. Green Amendment will be placed on the ballot for a vote by the people at the next election. While Governor Lujan Grisham has the “bully pulpit” and can support any issue, she does not have any official role in the constitutional amendment process.

The New Mexico Constitution was previously amended in 1972, attempting to ensure the right to clean water, air, soils and environments. While the intent was to protect land, air and water as a fundamental right, the amendment didn’t have any teeth. Compliance was left in the hands of the Legislature.

Under the new proposed Green Amendment, the public would have a more well-defined constitutional right to these rights. Policymakers would always have to enact policies through an environmental and equitable lens. If legislation is passed that does not protect the land, air and water, anyone could take the legislatures to court and say, “That’s unconstitutional.”

The main difference between an amendment and normal legislation is that, after it passes through both houses, it goes to the public for a vote on the ballot.

“When our laws and government laws and decision-making fails to fully, fairly and equitably protect all people, including future generations, the amendment will give people the constitutional power they need to set things right,” Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero said.

New Mexico already has some of the cleanest oil and gas production practices in the world. The amendment would not prohibit oil and gas production; however, it could lead to a closer review of things like flaring, venting of natural gas and the disposal of produced water in fracking operations.

The amendment would also change wildlife management in New Mexico, which is now primarily focused on maintaining hunting and fishing revenue.

“This idea that all wildlife is part of the public trust, not just game species, and that government has an obligation to protect that trust for the benefit of all New Mexicans, not just those who buy hunting and fishing licenses, that’s game changing,” Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces, said. 

The Green Amendment is a powerful environmental protection tool for the environmental justice and climate justice movements. Maya van Rossum, founder of Green Amendments for the Generations and the national Green Amendment movement, weighed in on the amendment saying, “New Mexico is a leader in advancing meaningful and enforceable constitutional protections for the rights of present and future generations to a clean and healthy environment.”

Athena Christodoulou, the CD-1 vice-chair for Veterans and Military Families Caucus of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, summed up the support of the N.M. Green Amendment. “It is clear that we need to be raising our right to clean air, land and water to the same level as our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For too long our state government  has been pressured to ignore those rights, those very human rights, at the expense of our future. Give it moral courage. Put the Green Amendment on the ballot for all New Mexicans to decide.” 

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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.