New Mexico Law Strengthens State Environmental Policy

The new law will allow the state to enact “more stringent” environmental standards than the federal policies. The state hopes the new law will put a prioritization on public health and the environment.

(TNS) — A bill New Mexico Democrats pushed as allowing for greater state control of environmental regulations was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham following the 2021 Legislative Session.

Senate Bill 8 allowed the State to set environmental standards “more stringent” than federal law, a change from how the law is currently written to allow state regulations by “no more stringent” than policies enacted at the federal level.

It passed the New Mexico Senate on a 23-15 vote and later the House of Representatives 39-29 before being signed into law on April 8.

The move was in response to multiple rollbacks of federal environmental policy under the past administration of former-President Donald Trump who pushed an “American energy dominance” agenda by lifting federal regulations on emissions of methane and other pollutants from oil and gas operations and sought to shrink national parks and open more land to drilling.

Upon signing SB 8, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said federal policy under Trump was “devastating” to the environment and endangered public health.

New Mexico relies on oil and gas revenue for more than a third of its budget and more than half of such activity occurs on federal land in the state.

But Lujan Grisham said the industry must be held accountable for pollution and that protecting the environment and the health of New Mexicans could not be dismissed.

“This legislation allows the state to make sure our environmental laws are the best they can be for New Mexico,” she said. “We’ve seen the devastating effects of a federal administration that does not prioritize public health and the environment – now, New Mexico is in the driver’s seat.”

Sponsor Sen. Peter Wirth (D-25) who served as Senate majority leader during the recent session said the bill would allow New Mexico to enact environmental protections that would remain consistent amid changing federal administrations.

“This important new law gives New Mexico regulators the tools to enact consistent environmental regulations that protect our air and water,” Wirth said. “I’d like to recognize all of the bill’s co-sponsors and thank Governor Lujan Grisham for signing this landmark environmental legislation.”

When it takes effect in July, SB 8 would allow the State’s Environmental Improvement Board and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to create and enact rules to reduce air pollutants and mitigate hazardous waste in addition to federal law, while also allowing the state to remediate groundwater contaminants like per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) which the federal government does not regulate.

The Albuquerque-Bernalillo Air Quality Control Board was also allowed to create such regulations, per the bill, as it operates independently of the NMED.

Under SB 8, agencies are no required to adopt regulations tougher than the federal government but are now allowed to establish stricter requirements as needed.

New Mexico environmental groups applauded the bill as broadening the state’s authority for environmental rules, regardless of federal policy.

Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund said the bill provided New Mexico needed control to address environmental concerns and needs specific to the state.

“New Mexicans will now be empowered to make decisions about their own health, clean air and water. This legislation gives the New Mexico Environment Department critical new tools to curb pollution that threatens New Mexico’s families and communities, while protecting the climate, water and clean air they depend on,” Goldstein said.

“We look forward to working with the department to advance regulations that meet the governor’s climate goals and cement nation-leading methane rules.”

Charles de Saillan, staff attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center said the State will no longer be forced to rollback its regulations if future federal administrations do so, allowing New Mexico more control of such state laws.

“Now that the Governor has signed this bill into law, the Environmental Improvement Board and the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Board will have the authority to adopt regulations that are more appropriate for New Mexico,” de Saillan said.

“And the boards are no longer obligated to roll back state air quality and hazardous waste regulations whenever the federal government rolls back its regulations, as has happened in recent years.”

Other recently signed environmental legislation was SB 112 to establish the Sustainable Economy Task Force which would study ways to diversify New Mexico’s economy beyond its reliance on oil and gas, along with the SB 84 the Community Solar Act to widen access to solar power.

House Bill 76 was also signed to allow the Environmental Improvement Board to deny air quality permits to businesses like oil and gas operators with a history of non-compliance with environmental requirements.

(c)2021 the Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.