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Bill aims for ‘just transition’ to green economy

Dylan Westerlin of NM Solar Group carries solar panels on the roof of First Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

As federal climate action makes waves in New Mexico’s oil and gas industry, a state bill proposes to elevate local voices in decisions about renewable energy.

Democratic Reps. Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque and Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces, along with House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, introduced the Climate Solutions Act on the House floor Thursday.

The bill, House Bill 9, would create a Climate Leadership Council within the state’s Climate Change Task Force, with advisory members from tribal governments and communities that are disproportionately impacted by pollution. A council subgroup would focus on “sustainable economic development.”

“We can’t really talk about being environmentally conscious without thinking about how we can build an economic development plan that is both resilient and also resulting in a fair economy where all of us get to prosper, not just a few,” Rubio said.

The bill would also codify emissions targets similar to those outlined in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s 2019 executive order on climate change.

New Mexico would need to achieve a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050 if the bill were enacted.

Stansbury said the bill is flexible on how New Mexico could reach those targets.

“It’s a combination of innovation, air quality emissions controls, working with industry, working with communities and, my favorite, which is carbon sequestration, so reforesting our state, and sustainable agriculture … a sort of all-of-the-above approach,” she said.

The idea of a “just transition” centers on creating good jobs for underserved communities as New Mexico shifts from a fossil-fuel driven economy to renewable energy sources.

Training is key to that effort, said Nena Benavidez, a Silver City resident working with New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (NM CAFé). For a rural, historic mining region, that could mean training residents for renewable energy jobs with traditional four-year degrees or other certification programs at local colleges.

“If we offer only jobs and no local training or education to support these jobs, then we aren’t really serving the community,” Benavidez said. “We’re simply replacing mining or oil … with another industry that creates a low-paying service economy.”

Direct and indirect air pollution sources would also be more strictly regulated under the bill.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 

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