By Daniel J. Chacón The Santa Fe New Mexican
New Mexico’s two U.S. senators are lending their support to a highly touted but contentious plan by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to turn the state into a hub of hydrogen production.
But in the New Mexico Legislature, where Democrats hold majority control of both chambers and will decide the fate of the bill, leaders have yet to take a stand.
For good reason, perhaps — the proposed Hydrogen Hub Development Act is generating stiff opposition from environmentalists and other members of the Democratic Party’s base who view the legislation as an incentive for fossil fuel-based hydrogen during a climate crisis.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Tuesday he’s reviewing the 68-page bill, which was introduced Monday.
“It’s critical that we get the details right,” Egolf said in a statement. “We must look at the use of hydrogen through a climate lens first and foremost, and we have to make sure that any hydrogen bill that we move forward sets in place incredibly stringent environmental protections.”
Chris Nordstrum, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic Caucus, wrote in an email the Senate leadership has not yet had an opportunity to scrutinize the legislation.
“The bill was just introduced and will undoubtedly undergo vigorous debate in the House,” he wrote.
Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who is the lead sponsor of House Bill 4, said education will be key to building support for the bill. She said she and Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, who is one of the co-sponsors, will be “spending a lot of time” with members of committees that will be considering the bill.
“We’re also talking to different advocate groups,” she said, adding the bill already has “some great support” from its two other co-sponsors, House Majority Leader Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants.
“We basically got the top dogs, so to speak, in the New Mexico House agreeing to it,” said Lundstrom, who serves as chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “We … understand the importance of supporting the governor and certainly really appreciate the support and encouragement we’re getting from our two U.S. senators.”
U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján expressed their support for the legislation in a news release issued by the Governor’s Office, which said the bill promotes “clean” hydrogen development.
“By taking this step, New Mexico can become the nation’s leader in clean hydrogen production, research, and workforce development,” Heinrich said in a statement.
“Investing in the growing clean hydrogen economy will help New Mexico achieve a net-zero future and meet our climate goals,” Luján said.
The bill, which would offer tax incentives to develop the infrastructure and supply chain for a low-carbon hydrogen economy, would help New Mexico transition away from its dependence on oil and gas, Lundstrom said.
“It provides an opportunity for the development of a new energy industry,” she said. “This is that next step toward getting to full clean energy.”
Lundstrom said the concerns being raised are legitimate because hydrogen development is still relatively new.
“And, of course, in this case we’re talking about the use of things like natural gas, which has got carbon in it,” she said. “But I think we need to be practical about this. We have to have a pathway to where they all want to be, where we all want to be, and I think this is part of the pathway.”
Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement that hydrogen from fossil fuel is a source of climate and air pollution at every point of production.
“If anything, we should be regulating hydrogen,” she said. “In particular, the bill in some cases doesn’t include measurement of the climate impact of the upstream methane source. We just do not have time left in this climate crisis to be paying companies to add climate pollution.”
Some Democratic lawmakers have also expressed reservations about the governor’s plan and have suggested creating a work group to plot the future of hydrogen in New Mexico.
Lundstrom said time is of the essence with the recent passage of the federal infrastructure package, which funnels $8 billion toward creating four hydrogen hubs across the nation. She said she feels like New Mexico is in a “foot race” with other states.
“I don’t want New Mexico just swept up by some other state as being part of somebody else’s hub,” she said. “We need to lead the path here. We need to lead.”
Lundstrom said she’s been contacted by a couple of other states interested in pursuing a hydrogen hub.
“I think when they look at New Mexico, it’s like, ‘Oh well. This is just another group that we can sweep into our bigger initiative.’ I want it to be the other way around,” she said. “I want us to be the lead. I don’t want to wait for somebody else.”