NM needs a special (climate) session now! - Albuquerque Journal

NM needs a special (climate) session now!

Judith Polich/For the Journal

It seems like we have entered a new political landscape. Our governor, who has been considered a climate-change leader, just vetoed most of the climate change legislation passed by our House and Senate this session. And she did so with very little explanation, suggesting these bills were not “sustainable.” Most of us, in contrast, understand the status quo is not sustainable.

In particular it is hard to comprehend why she vetoed the geothermal bill. The Geothermal Resources Development Act passed the House 37-0 and the Senate 63-3. It is difficult to imagine a more popular and essential initiative. The bill expanded the duties of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) to promote geothermal and would have provided grants and loans for geothermal research and development. This type of enabling legislation is important to help our state and the emerging industry secure federal funds. If this act had not been vetoed, EMNRD planned to apply for federal funding to jump-start this industry in New Mexico, some $600 million of which is currently available.

The Senate sponsor of the Act, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, has stated, “we happen to be positioned wonderfully because we have the petroleum and natural gas industry who’ve developed techniques for drilling to the depths that are required to reach rocks hot enough to generate electricity. Utilizing the skill of the petroleum industry, we think we have great opportunities in New Mexico.”

We are lucky. New Mexico has geothermal resources — the fifth-largest reserve in the country. Once developed they can replace coal and gas electrical generation. The technology now exists for drilling deep into our underground hot–rock formations. The Canadian company Eavor Inc. drilled an 18,000-foot well bore in southwest New Mexico last year. Think about it — that is a borehole over 3 1/2 miles deep! Our subsurface hot-rock formations are enormous. And it’s all clean, renewable energy.

So why was this bill vetoed? It was a modest bill. It would have provided $25 million in state money for research and development projects and about $10 million annually for tax incentives. That is a nano-drop in the bucket of New Mexico’s annual budget. This was a no-brainer bill that the governor’s staff apparently said the governor was totally on board for. But then it was surprisingly vetoed. The governor’s rationale for the veto does not hold. What happened?

I asked Ortiz y Pino if he knew why it was vetoed. He was as baffled as the rest of us. He said he plans to meet with the governor’s representative as soon as she is available to find out how to proceed.

Could the governor have made a mistake in the last-minute flurry of approving legislation? I was told by good sources “this governor does not make mistakes.” So why the veto? In a press conference after the vetoes she implied more “is coming in the environmental space.” It better be. Just how does she think we will meet the goals of the Energy Transition Act of 2019 without geothermal? That 2019 act, which was one of the governor’s premier initiatives, requires half of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2030, 80% by 2040 and all by 2045. We aren’t even close.

I think it is time for our governor to share with her concerned citizenry just what she has in mind. Does she intend to call a special session on the environment and climate change to fix whatever needs fixing on these and other bills and finally get these climate measures passed and signed? Next year is only a 30-day session so not much will get done and delays are exponentially costly for this legislation. We want and need a large hunk of that $600 million to develop this new industry here. These are competitive funds, other states are moving fast, and we may be left in the dust.

If we act we could become a global leader in geothermal like Iceland. Iceland is on its way to carbon neutrality. As reported recently in New Science already 30% of Iceland’s electricity comes from geothermal and 90% of its homes and businesses are heated by geothermal. Iceland is betting on long-term price stability rather than price gouging by oil cartels.

The Legislature also has the power to override the governor’s veto during the next session. But the best outcome would be if the governor called a special session now on climate change. This could happen if enough of us let the governor know we want action and we want it now.

Judith Polich is a New Mexico resident and a climate change columnist. She can be reached at judith.polich@gmail.com.

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