Proposed New Mexico Environmental Review Act Scuttled After Public Outcry

Published April 10, 2019

A bill that would have required New Mexico state agencies to expand environmental assessments and public consultations concerning activities on state lands stalled in the state’s House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee (HEENRC) after business and city leaders, energy companies, farmers, and other groups objected its new requirements were unnecessary and overly burdensome.

HEENRC recommended the legislature not adopt the New Mexico Environmental Review Act, House Bill 206.

Activist Origins

H.B. 206 was initially drafted by Judy Calman, a staff attorney of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, an environmental activist group. Calman has been attempting to get similar legislation through the state legislature since 2009. H.B. 206 was amended 68 times between the time state Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque) introduced it on January 14 and its first hearing on February 2, in response to concerns that it would impose duplicative, onerous regulations that would limit job growth and hamper commercial activities.

Among its primary provisions, H.B. 206 would have required projects within 15 miles of tribal land include a consultation with tribal leaders to steer any proposed development away from cultural resources and sensitive locations.

Projects smaller than $2 million could have required assessment if the state agency with licensing authority determined the project had spurred “public controversy,” and existing facilities could have been required to undertake new environmental reviews if they proposed significant changes to their permits.

The vast majority of the speakers at a public hearing on the bill expressed strong concerns the new environmental restrictions would further stifle economic development in New Mexico. Of those testifying during the hearing, more than 50 speakers opposed the bill, and only three testified in in favor of it.

Speaker after speaker, including spokespersons for Chevron, the mining company Freeport-McMoRan, the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, the New Mexico Association of Counties, the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, and XTO Energy, testified existing laws and permitting requirements already provide sufficient environmental protections in the state.

‘Job Killer’

During the hearing, Rep. James Strickler (R-Farmington) said in all his years as a legislator he had never seen so much opposition to a single bill “from every group known to man.”

The bill is “unworkable,” said Strickler. “This is a job killer; that’s all it is.”

The legislation would be an economic disaster for New Mexico, says Matthew Gonzales, government affairs director for the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau.

“The progressive majority in the House was stalled because the committee was not happy with the bill’s language, and no wonder,” said Gonzales. “Over 60 groups stood together in opposition, from agriculture, mining, oil and gas, the Chamber of Commerce, and more.

“New Mexico has already been negatively impacted simply by the introduction of this bill, which has led businesses and industries to see New Mexico as a high-risk state for business stability,” Gonzales said. “This bill would have been a death knell for prosperity for New Mexicans.”

Duggan Flanakin¬†([email protected])¬†writes from Austin, Texas.

Official Connections

State Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque): https://www.nmlegis.gov/members/Legislator?SponCode=HCHAS; [email protected]

State Rep. James Strickler (R-Farmington): https://www.nmlegis.gov/members/Legislator?SponCode=HSTRI; [email protected]