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.

Environmental, conservation groups and activists across New Mexico have learned that joining forces and forming coalitions creates a squeaky wheel that becomes harder to ignore. There’s strength in numbers: more people sign petitions, show up for hearings, make more phone calls to legislators and create a networking giant that continues to grow and spread the word about the many dire issues the Land of Enchantment is facing in the upcoming decades with climate change, water, pollution and the sale of its natural resources.

In a year when the 30-day legislative session usually focuses on budget, a tornado of bills was filed, many trying to fully fund New Mexico environmental agencies and initiatives.  This year there was some progress made on energy efficiency and outdoor recreation; land conservation and climate change for the large part missed the boat.

Even with a significant surplus in state revenue, legislators missed the mark by about $10 million on Governor Lujan Grisham’s budget recommendations for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD).

“We are excited to see the formation of Climate Bureaus at the agencies that will be tasked with reducing New Mexico’s climate pollution. But these bureaus and the agencies themselves are drastically underfunded…. As recently reported, if New Mexico funded nine more staffers for cleanup applications at the Oil Conservation Division, the resulting remediation work would generate an estimated $456 million economic impact,” said Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Director.

One of the most positive funding outcomes in the budget was the State Parks Division at EMNRD. More than $9.4 million was allocated to help enhance the visitor experience at New Mexico State Parks, with an additional $468,000 in capital outlay infrastructure funding for improvements to restroom and shower facilities. This allocation gets added to $20 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding approved in December 2021 to help clear a backlog of maintenance projects estimated to be more than $40 million.

The Senate Finance Committee added $2 million to support expanding wildlife corridors which is critical to public safety. This expansion helps New Mexico leverage millions of matching dollars from the federal infrastructure bill to reduce the growing costs of human and wildlife collisions throughout the state, which cost drivers up to $20 million annually.  

Underserved communities received support through a one-time special appropriation of $10 million to implement an energy efficiency program through the Community Energy Efficiency Development. “It’s wonderful to see prioritization of resources to help low-income New Mexicans reduce their energy burdens while creating good-paying local jobs and fighting climate change,” said Tammy Fiebelkorn of Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed including the Land of Enchantment General Obligation Bond as part of the larger general obligation package that funds community projects. It did not receive the support it needed. The proposal would have set up a ballot initiative and given voters an opportunity to dedicate $50 million to leverage federal funds and address a decades-long funding gap in public lands and outdoor infrastructure.

“Each year that goes by without state funding for land and water conservation, New Mexico loses millions in federal matching dollars. This doesn’t make sense, and it’s unfortunate we missed the opportunity to right this wrong by passing the Land of Enchantment GO Bond,” said Brittany Fallon, Policy Director for New Mexico Wild. “Our agencies can only adequately protect our air, lands, and water when we fund them to do so. We will continue making the case that more investment is needed in conservation to support New Mexico communities and our environment.”   

The Uranium Cleanup bill passed and is on the governor’s desk. This law will begin to address the 137 unreclaimed uranium mines that continue to expose rural and Indigenous communities to toxic and radioactive pollution. The bill creates a strategic cleanup plan and establishes an evolving fund to resource reclamation work.

A Solar Tax Credit made it into the comprehensive tax package: legislation to extend the solar rooftop tax credit, add more money to the fund and make the credit rebatable.

Newly appointed State Engineer Mike Hamman of the Water Office received a modest budgetary increase, with the Senate Finance Committee adding nine additional full-time employees, including important tribal water rights settlement positions.

A fierce community effort stopped all hydrogen incentive bills, as well as the $125 million earmarked in the budget for such projects. Keep your eyes open and ears to the ground because this methane-fueled (“blue”) hydrogen is like a cat with nine lives. With $8 billion in federal funds for hydrogen hubs still out there, and the oil and gas industry trying to find a way to stay alive through climate change, it is sure to come back for a rematch.

Certain to do reruns next session are the following bills:

The Clean Future Act: Requiring 50% reduction in climate pollution economy-wide in New Mexico by 2030 and 90% by 2050, with a focus on prioritizing pollution reductions in and consultation with disproportionately impacted communities

The Clean Fuels Standard: Passage would have reduced the carbon intensity of transportation fuels in New Mexico

The Green Amendment: Supported by 24 co-sponsors and backed by Maya van Rossum, the “Mother of the Green Amendment,” whose goal is to see a Green Amendment in every state. This bill made it farther than last year and they’re already gearing up for next year.

No “Temporary” High-Level Nuclear Waste Storage Bill: Will raise its head again next year in an effort to stop all the nation’s high-level nuclear waste from being transported to the southeast corner of New Mexico by rail.

Those supporters of bills that didn’t make the cut learned how to better navigate the legislative ropes, did lots of networking, made new contacts, increased legislative awareness and left saying they’ll be back next year, stronger and louder.