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Commission majority opposes state environmental review bill

BERNALILLO — Because they believe it will harm the economy, Sandoval County Commissioners voted to oppose House Bill 206 on Thursday evening at their meeting in the county administration building.

HB 206, or the Environmental Review Act, would require agencies to submit detailed reports of projects for which a starting evaluation shows the project would have significant impact on the environment. That means environmental analysis of a project needs to be conducted before permitting any of it to move forward, and a secondary analysis might be necessary.

According to the bill synopsis, HB206 would provide for public-comment periods and rule-making authority to implement the legislation and judicial review, which would mean creating a regulatory board.

Entities whose projects would be subject to review would be public agencies, including state agencies, higher-education institutions, counties and municipalities, or entities needing a permit or license from a public agency.

Certain projects would be exempt from the process, including law enforcement activities or emergency activities to protect public health and projects under $2 million, among many others.

Commissioners Katherine Bruch and Kenneth Eichwald supported HB 206. Commissioners Jay Block, Michael Meek and Dave Heil pushed through the resolution to oppose it.

Bruch said she stood with the values of protecting New Mexico’s land, air, water and people and that the bill is designed to “protect us all.”

“Currently New Mexico does not have a uniform requirement for state agencies to notify the public of proposed projects, nor are there any requirements for environmental analysis before permitting significant projects,” Bruch said. “Eighteen other states and the federal government have these requirements in place.”

Mario Atencio, a representative for newly elected Navajo Nation Council Delegate Daniel Tso, relayed Tso’s support of the bill.

However, Block suggested the vague wording and openness of the bill could halt job creation, and said safeguards were already in place for projects. He also raised the question as to what would happen if one of the organizations or tribal nations would not accept the environmental impact statement.

“I would assume that if this passes, and they would actually create such a board that they would pass their own regulations and the regulations would state what the procedures were, but it’s not clearly laid out in the bill itself,” county attorney Robin Hammer said.

President and CEO of Sandoval Economic Alliance Steve Jenkins adamantly opposed the bill, saying it was vague, would stymie positive economic growth and repel companies and cause them to leave the state.

“In my 44 years, I have never seen a piece of legislation like this,” Jenkins said. “And I’ll be bold and say this is just a plain stupid legislation. Short-sighted, it will be detrimental and destructive to this state’s economy. SEA adamantly opposes this and encourages you to pass a resolution in opposition.”

Heil said, “The examples I’m hearing are oil and gas, and open-pit mining. Well, write an ordinance for that, write a law for that, but don’t write a law that applies to a housing development. Don’t write a law that applies to a small business operation …

“If you keep jacking the costs up the longer the process goes, you are driving businesses out of the state. God help us, if this bill passes, we can close the doors and go home.”