Commentary

The Clean Futures Act must not leave behind the voices of Indigenous communities

As it stands, this bill is greenwashing at best, and at worst, a permission slip for more decades of inaction

February 8, 2022 4:35 am

(Charles O’Rear / Getty Images)

During this legislative session, I testified to the New Mexico House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee in opposition to HB-6, the “Clean Futures Act.” Although I know Rep. Nathan Small, Speaker Brian Egolf and the other sponsors of this legislation have sincerely good intentions, the draft was significantly flawed in ways that would cause irreparable harm to my ancestral homelands through the continuation of violent extraction and the commodification of what my people have always considered sacred: our land, sky, and water. 

Despite receiving a multitude of feedback from frontline Indigenous communities and grassroots organizations on how to improve HB 6, the draft bill was ultimately filed and did not reflect any of the feedback that Indigenous youth and frontline communities provided. 

As a result, the Clean Futures Act still plays right into the trap of market-based climate solutions and the facade of the net-zero by 2050 pledge. Rather than taking action now, this legislation would give the green light to polluters to keep extracting and polluting until the very last minute before 2050. This is the goal of the net-zero-by-2050 plan: delay meaningful action to protect oil and gas profits.

The Clean Futures Act sets new greenhouse gas emission limits to achieve 50% of 2005 levels by 2030, then net-zero by 2050. But the devil is in the details. 

In fact, HB 6 opens the door to an entire carbon trading scheme by allowing offsets – the removal or reduction of emissions through unsustainable methods like tree-planting or direct-air carbon capture. The Clean Futures Act allows offsets to be used for up to 10% of the reductions required to meet net-zero by 2050, which might make sense if offsets worked in the first place — but they don’t. 

Offsets, like tree-planting and direct-air carbon capture, are just PR campaigns designed to mislead people into thinking that the climate crisis is being dealt with.

The reality is that we cannot plant or sequester our way out of climate catastrophe. This greenwashing is only leading to colonial land grabs that prey on Indigenous lands. That’s why offsets have been labeled the “new form of colonialism” by the Indigenous Environmental Network.

As it stands, there are two major problems with the goals lined out in this bill: First, as of now, rulemaking for HB 6 will take two years but cannot begin until 2025, meaning that we will have three years — from 2027 to 2030 — to hit the first benchmark outlined in this bill. By waiting until 2027 to start the process, we are setting ourselves up for failure. 

Second, offsets and net-zero need to be removed from the language entirely, because the concepts are disingenuous. The sheer scale of offsets needed to make up for business-as-usual emissions is ecologically impossible. And net-zero is just misleading jargon for a loophole that oil and gas companies created to procrastinate taking real climate action for decades, all while continuing to profit off of the destruction of our climate. 

The only way we’re going to mitigate this crisis is through achieving zero emissions by ending extraction. There is no way around this. I am well aware of the conversations taking place behind the scenes and behind closed doors — and the ways Indigenous, frontline, and grassroots groups continue to be excluded. Had our communities been meaningfully included in this process, we wouldn’t see these false market-based solutions in the first place. 

 Our communities want clean energy. We want opportunities to pursue local economic development that doesn’t trade the long-term health and livability of our planet for short-term and short-sighted revenue. We don’t want revenue that relies on the violent extraction and commodification of what we as Indigenous people have always considered sacred. 

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In the end, the net-zero by 2050 targets are greenwashing at best, and at worst give the green light to decades of inaction.  

That’s why as a member of tribal communities who were not consulted and left out of the drafting of this bill, and a young leader whose future will be jeopardized by insufficient action, I’m urging our State’s lawmakers to stand in solidarity with Indigenous youth and oppose HB 6 until the sponsors make four critical changes:

1. The timeline must be moved up

The bill must be amended to put emissions reduction standards in place now. This would make it possible to achieve the stated 50% emissions reduction goals by 2030. Rulemaking should start as soon as the bill is passed into law. The timeline in the bill now won’t achieve the stated goals. Rolling out the rules must start next year. This is especially important given that consultation with impacted communities needs to be included. 

2. Require real zero emissions — not net-zero:

Carbon capture and sequestration, carbon offsets, and carbon credits are all false market-based solutions and need to be removed from HB 6. Our Indigenous relatives in the global struggle against carbon colonialism have taught us that these market schemes fail to accomplish emissions reductions and are extremely problematic for our communities. Cutting the market mechanism from this bill is the right thing to do, and it will simplify the bill and the regulatory process, making it a lot easier to move up the timeline.

3. Stop proposing climate solutions about us without us:

Sending a copy of this bill’s draft to the Indian Affairs Department does not mean there has been meaningful engagement from tribal communities historically left out of this process. This bill is not in line with the principles that have been laid out by the Grisham administration in regards to climate crisis policy. Principles like Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) the Jemez Principles, and the NM Climate Task Force’s Climate Equity Principles  — all of which this Legislature claims to support. HB 6 must include meaningful engagement, consultation, and participation from frontline Indigenous communities from the start.

4. Require downstream reporting of greenhouse gas emissions

For a period in 2021, New Mexico surpassed North Dakota in oil and gas production becoming the second-largest producer of oil and natural gas in the country. Yet our governor and Legislature boast about reducing our state’s carbon footprint and cutting emissions. This is because our state doesn’t require the reporting of the carbon emitted in other parts of the world as a direct result of the extraction here in New Mexico. In order to truly address our state’s responsibility for fueling the climate crisis, we need to see the full picture by reporting downstream emissions. 

The Clean Futures Act is an important step in the right direction and has clearly good intentions, but without these vital amendments, HB 6 allows those directly responsible for this crisis to entirely avoid accountability, wasting valuable time for the rest of us. New Mexicans from every corner of the state are already feeling the impacts of a warming planet, and we’ve been demanding meaningful climate legislation for years. 

Now’s the time to answer our call. Urge your representatives to support these amendments in their entirety to HB 6 before sending it to the governor’s desk.

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Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo
Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo

​Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo is a queer, two-spirit Indigenous climate activist and award-winning community organizer in unceded Tiwa Territory (Albuquerque, NM). Coming from the frontline Indigenous communities of Laguna and Isleta Pueblos, Jonathan has always understood the important role that environmental stewardship has in the complex identity of Indigeneity. Throughout his 19 years of life, Jonathan has been involved in countless organizations and social movements throughout the state of New Mexico and across the United States. In October of 2016, Jonathan’s family traveled to Standing Rock to deliver food and supplies to Water Protectors on the front lines against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Throughout 2019, Jonathan organized several school climate strikes across Albuquerque where thousands of students united to call for urgent action from local and state officials. Currently, Jonathan serves as the Chairmxn of the Board of Directors of Pueblo Action Alliance, a grassroots organization working on the frontlines of combating environmental racism and ecological destruction here in New Mexico.

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