SANTA FE — A bill aimed at addressing the public health impacts of climate change is on the move at the Roundhouse after surviving its first committee hearing.
The Public Health and Climate Resiliency Act, if passed, would create a new program under the Department of Health and a fund in the state treasury to support communities in New Mexico in preparing for and responding to health emergencies related to extreme weather and climate change.
It comes as scientists in New Mexico project an average temperature rise of 5 to 7 degrees over the next 50 years and runoff and recharge water to go down 3% to 5% per decade, according to a report by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.
Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, a co-sponsor of the bill, Senate Bill 5 said that her district saw three major wildfires last year alone.
She also expressed concern about the impact of the smoke on residents’ respiratory systems combined with issues that arose as people lost their homes and water sources.
“I believe that there were real-life consequences that could be looked at in advance before these climate change events happen,” Stefanics said.
The new program would oversee an initial $5 million infusion over five years and the Department of Health would have the authority to make grants to municipalities and tribal agencies. It would hire about a half dozen new staff members to carry out the work. That would include assistance to communities to apply for the grant money, which is often a barrier to smaller communities receiving funds.
Stefanics said there are federal funds that could be available to the state for climate resiliency once it has a structured program and staff dedicated to the issue, and added that the program was a first step.
“This bill doesn’t really set up the money to build a bridge,” she said. “It really is about evaluating that if we had a flood I might need a bridge.”
Stefanics said the Department of Health was consulted on the bill and was expected to send staff to the hearing, though no DOH employees were present.
The bill passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on a 7-2 vote, and now advances to the Senate Finance Committee.
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, was one of the two senators who voted against the bill, saying it was loosely written.
“I’ve been here a number of years, and I’ve voted on so many of these things that I thought were so good, and in reality, they accomplished very little,” he said.