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The Signpost welcomes letters of opinion to encourage dialog in the community. Letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, libel, and other considerations.
Correction: In an article in the April Signpost, the name of code-enforcement officer Wayne Wormhood was misspelled. The Signpost staff apologizes for this mistake.
By Earl James and Douglas Meiklejohn,
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
The 2005 legislative session may go down on record as one of the most antienvironmental sessions ever. Many bills were introduced for industry that illustrated the power of uniting greed and antigovernment ideology and would devastate large swaths of New Mexico’s environment if they had passed.
Perhaps the most seriously antienvironmental bills of the entire session were Senate Bill 583, carried by Senator Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) and the identical House Bill 711, sponsored by Representative Jose Campos (D-Santa Rosa). Both bills would have prohibited the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission from protecting surface waters not within the federal definition of “waters of the United States” and from adopting or enforcing standards and regulations for surface water that are more stringent than those required by federal law. Supported by the rapidly growing commercial dairy industry and the New Mexico Home Builders Association, the bills drew more fire from conservationists of all stripes than any others introduced in this session. They were extremely dangerous bills in light of the Bush Administration’s rollbacks of federal regulations and definitions of what categories of surface water will be regulated at all by the federal government. In an ideological shift that should have been embarrassing, conservative Republicans abandoned their state’s-rights mantra and championed the federal government as their savior.
If either of these bills had passed, between 20 and 40 percent of New Mexico’s surface water would have been completely unprotected and vulnerable to pollution from any and all sources.
Fortunately, both bills died. SB 583 was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee after intense lobbying by the Law Center and dozens of other organizations. House Bill 711 was also the object of intense lobbying and it died its own well deserved death in the House Judiciary Committee.
On the flip side, numerous bills introduced by environmental interests met similar fates due to opposition by commercial and industrial interests, and a few good bills actually made it through the legislative meat grinder and are on their way to the Governor’s desk. The casualties included the following:
HB 722 and SB 710, the Healthy Communities Act, which would have given strong protection from further pollution to communities that already have more polluting facilities than they can count; and
HB 1004, Air quality Control Act Requirements, and SB 668, Stringency of Hazardous Waste Act Rules, which would have stripped the “no more stringent than federal standards” language out of both the New Mexico Air Quality and Hazardous Waste Acts, thereby allowing New Mexico to decide how much protection to afford communities and the environment rather than have to follow the Bush Administration’s environmental rollbacks. New Mexico business and industry interests would have none of that, and their mouthpieces in the Roundhouse killed both bills.
On the very short list of winners is the Strategic Water Reserve Act, which will provide a dedicated funding stream for the state to acquire water rights to help comply with the Endangered Species Act and meet our interstate stream compact delivery obligations; and a $5 million 2005 Conservation Funding package that will purchase land for conservation, and develop conservation easements under the federal Forest Legacy Program. A couple of clean energy bills supported by the Governor also passed.
The Law Center had five staff members lobbying during the session and countless hours were spent working to kill the worst bills and trying to pass a couple of good ones. A more complete list and analysis of bills good and bad can be found on our Web site at www.nmenvirolaw.org/news.