The Oil and Gas (O&G) industry in New Mexico is still ruthlessly running roughshod over anything that gets in its way; as they have done for close to 100 years. If called to the carpet, which doesn't happen very often, they wave the "you need our dollars flag." How can the people of the Land of Enchantment stop them from polluting our skies?
A recent Searchlight report verified unchecked methane releases throughout the Permian Basin and reviewed OCD reports to verify that virtually no inspections were being conducted or fines levied on methane pollution from Oil and Gas companies. The state's laws aren’t being enforced.
“Everybody who supports the Green Amendment knows legislation is easily passed, not enforced and easily rescinded. This amendment ensures environmental rights do not become the whipping boy of day in, day out politicking between lobbyists and legislators,” said Maya van Rossum, founder of the Green Amendment for the Generations. “Why do corporations and industrial operators think that they are the ones who should decide whether or not the constitution that belongs to the people of New Mexico should be amended to include an environmental right or not?
After receiving a widely circulated handout on why large renewable industries doing business in New Mexico are against the Green Amendment, The Paper. spoke with Rikki Seguin, Executive Director of Interwest Energy Alliance who hired Holland and Hart to produce the memo. Sequin’s company represents large-scale renewable energy developers and manufacturers, and locates projects in a six-state area for their members to develop. The Paper also contacted Maya van Russom, the “Mother” of the Green Amendment about her response to the memo.
The Green Amendment
HJR4 – SJR6 Environmental Rights Act, AKA Green Amendment, sponsored by Representative Joanne J. Ferrary, Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero and Representative Tara L. Lujan, would give New Mexicans the opportunity to vote to amend the NM State Constitution to provide the people of the state with environmental rights. New York, Pennsylvania and Montana have added a Green Amendment to their constitutions. There are currently efforts in multiple states, including NM, to pass Green Amendments.
The Green Amendment would recognize and protect the rights of all people, including future generations, to clean and healthy air, water, soil, and environments, a stable climate, and self-sustaining ecosystems regardless of race, ethnicity, tribal membership status, socioeconomics, or geography. The Amendment directs the state, counties, and municipalities to serve as trustees of the natural resources of New Mexico.
If the legislature passes HJR4 or SJR 6, the Green Amendment would be placed on the 2024 General Election ballot. If it passes either chamber, it goes straight to the voters; the Governor does not need to sign the resolution. If voters pass it, hard-fought regulations and laws that protect the state’s land, air and water would have to be enforced, or our legislators would be in violation of the state’s constitution. Last year lobbyists from large oil and gas, mining, nuclear and sustainable energy companies successfully prevented the Green Amendment from getting to the floor of either the NM State House or Senate.
Maya van Russom (MvR) Response to Sustainable Energy Developer's (SED) Fears
SED: Seguin said while her company was aligned with the concepts of the Green Amendment, the language was too broad, would invite court cases, and would cause delays to alternative energy projects. They want the concepts addressed through legislation and statutes so they can be easily changed. “The language of the Green Amendment is broad and there's the ability to bring forward a suit that a permit is in violation of their rights,” Seguin alleged.
MvR: “A statute only has the ability to address a small select area of a problem. Language in the Green Amendment is appropriately broad,” van Rossum said. “The job of the legislature, the executive branch, the regulators, the judiciary and the people is to help define those terms. For every fundamental human civil and political right that is recognized, language is appropriately broad, so that they can apply across the entire arena of rights that they are covering; so they can endure over space and time, covering all government action, all environmental issues and entitlements that we know about, and don't know about and some we can't even conceive of right now.”
SED: Citing a case in Montana where Pattern Energy tried to develop the Crazy Mountain Wind Farm that stalled, Seguin said: “We want to make sure that it doesn't unintentionally inhibit our ability to get clean energy projects online quickly.”
MvR: "Where there are legal challenges, the amendment would serve as a parallel full defense for these government decisions to support and advance those projects, the permits issued, and the like. “If there's a choice between an action or activity that will contribute to a climate crisis, and a clean and renewable energy strategy, the amendment will actually encourage decisions that advance clean and renewable energy."
SED: Seguim said non-renewable energy sources would be able to attack renewables in court to slow down the transition process to deal with climate change. “It opens the door for litigation.”
MvR: ”There is no massive opposition using constitutional environmental rights against clean energy projects,” van Rossum said. “They're exercising their imaginations to come up with any conceivable scenario. The Crazy Mountain lawsuit was not a constitutional claim. If there were any cases in Pennsylvania against clean energy, rest assured I would know. New York has had the Green Amendment for a year; there's not a single suit; and New York has a very robust effort to advance clean energy,” van Rossum said.
SED: “From a climate perspective we cannot afford to wait the years that it can take for the New Mexico court system to settle cases,” Seguim said.
MvR: There is no mass abuse of constitutional entitlements because the bar is so high that if somebody tries to engage lawsuits in an abusive behavior it would be flagged by the courts. “You're not going to have people constantly bringing the same challenges to these sustainable projects. It would be considered a frivolous lawsuit and the lawyer would be in trouble,” van Rossum explained.
Across New Mexico there are many situations where laws have not been enforced, weakly interpreted or applied, van Rossum pointed out. "Violators get a slap on the wrist that still results in devastating harm to communities. And it's perfectly legal. There's nothing those communities can do where the kids are getting cancer or people are drinking contaminated water and have so much pollution in the air, they're suffering heart attacks. The Constitution amendment ensures that we the people always have that ability to hold the government accountable to properly enforce and apply the law.” She said even if there is a project here or there that gets slowed down, it is the net effect that truly matters. “The net effect is going to save the people and save nature.”
“For officials who are elected to represent the people, the most honorable way to fulfill their trust is to ensure that the people are the ones who get to decide about whether or not they want the Constitution amended,” van Rossum concluded.
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