N.M. government tasked with responding to climate disasters and grappling with their cause
Huge oil and gas revenues boost state coffers, but environmental advocates point out that the future is what’s on the line
Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) led a “die-in” demonstration in the Roundhouse rotunda before the governor’s State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
Advocacy groups praised the governor’s proposal for a boost in state environment programs, but activists also urged the state government to do more to fight climate change in a busy opening day of the 2023 legislative session.
Record oil and gas revenues soaring to what lawmakers called “once-in-history” levels brought New Mexico a more than $3.6 billion budget surplus — but the state is also spending more money in the wake of disastrous wildfires and flooding exacerbated by climate change.
Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) held a “die-in,” a demonstration of about 70 youth lying down in the capital’s rotunda before the governor’s State of the State address on Tuesday.
The wildfires that ripped across the state in 2022 are harbingers of a worse climate future, said Zephyr Jaramillo, a campaign organizer with YUCCA, and should prompt an immediate scaling back of the oil and gas industry.
“If New Mexico’s decision-makers don’t take bold climate action with real solutions, now, our communities and our futures are on the line,” Jaramillo said.
Sofia Jenkins-Nieto, the environmental justice coordinator at YUCCA, said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s focus in her speech on net zero by 2050 does not address the drastic global change.
“It’s too little too late to address the crisis we’re in,” she said.
The governor pledged a surprise $100 million in state money for San Miguel and Mora Counties hit hard by the worst wildfire ever in New Mexico as one of the environmental priorities at the end of the State of the State address Tuesday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency started accepting applications for $2.5 billion in federal aid money in November, but Lujan Grisham said residents need immediate help to rebuild roads, farms and homes.
Mora County Commissioner Veronica Serna called the announcement both a “surprise” and “a major relief” for the county, saying those dollars can pay for roads impacted by the fires and the flooding in the aftermath.
“I had heard that they were considering helping us. I just didn’t know how much they’d give,” Serna said. “I am so grateful because our roads are in desperate need of repair.”
In the address, Lujan Grisham also highlighted some of the requests in her $9.4 billion executive budget proposal, including setting aside $128 million for water infrastructure.
Rachel Conn, a deputy director with water advocacy group Amigos Bravos, said it was a big step towards making a long-term investment to fix flooding, irrigation and water quality issues across the state.
The longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive solutions become.
– Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos
Beyond funding, Conn said, the state has to ensure that rural systems, tribes and acequias have equal support, while working to update the entire state’s system. N.M. government must continue to provide increased funding for state agencies overseeing water quality, she added, such as the Office of the State Engineer.
“Because the decisions we make now will impact every New Mexican for the next century,” she said. “We must not let this historic moment go by without taking bold concrete steps to modernize our water policies and our infrastructure.”
Lujan Grisham also recommended investing $75 million for the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, offering additional state money to access federal conservation money over three to five years.
In its separate $9.4 billion budget, the Legislative Finance Committee recommended $35 million for the fund.
Brittany Fallon, senior policy manager at Western Resource Advocates, a conservation nonprofit across seven states, called the governor’s pledge a “huge deal” for sustainability.
“This could be helping our communities be more resilient to climate change,” she said, “whether that is wildfire, whether that is drought, whether that is habitat management or sustainable trail building.”
The state money will go to existing programs that qualify for federal matches and can offer more resources.
“You need money in order to be eligible for federal government money,” Fallon said. “Some of the programs, for $1 of state money, you can bring in $3 of federal money, which is a huge return.”
Fallon said the state’s windfall needs to be used to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
“One of the most responsible things we can do with record oil and gas revenue,” she said, “is improve our community’s ability to withstand climate change, which of course is partially caused by oil and gas.”
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