SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Do New Mexicans need the legal right to a clean environment? That’s one of the big questions legislators are considering at the Roundhouse.
Senate Joint Resolution 6 would allow voters to decide if they want to amend the New Mexico Constitution. The joint resolution would let voters decide if the Constitution should include the right to “clean and healthy air, water, soil and environments; a stable climate; and self-sustaining ecosystems.” Legislators in the Senate Rules Committee debated the joint resolution on Wednesday.
“Just the same way that we protect the other rights that we enjoy,” Stephanie Garcia Richard, the State Land Commissioner explained in Wednesday’s meeting, “we are asking the voters whether or not they will prioritize their right to a clean environment, clean air, [and] clean water.”
If the New Mexico Constitution is amended to include environmental rights, it would put the onus on government agencies to ensure that the natural resources of the state are preserved. It could lead to some lawsuits, according to an analysis by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. But, supporters say legal battles would be minor.
“New Mexico judges who already deal with constitutional challenges, as well as environmental cases, on a regular basis are already well equipped to effectively use this amendment to strengthen environmental protection and environmental justice,” Maya Van Rossum, the founder of the nonprofit Green Amendments For The Generations, explained to the committee. “In the three states with similar amendments, there is no massive rush of litigation.”
Maya Van Rossum says Pennsylvania, Montana, and New York each already have similar amendments on the books. These are often called “green amendments.”
The idea of putting a similar idea in place in New Mexico isn’t new. For several years, the idea has been floating around the Roundhouse, but it’s failed to gain traction in the past.
On Wednesday, not everyone was in favor of the green amendment as proposed in Senate Joint Resolution 6. “We support the intention of this proposal. We’re very excited to be part of New Mexico’s clean energy transition and are already investing roughly $10 billion into the state and putting thousands of New Mexicans to work,” said Rikki Seguine, the executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a coalition of renewable energy companies. But, “the language in the green amendment is so broad that, unfortunately, neither local governments, members of the public, or private developers can accurately guess at what these words mean.”
“This leads to incredible inefficiencies, legal risk, and uncertainty in the context of renewable energy development,” Seguine said. The joint resolution could lead to “unnecessary expense and delay that can compromise project success, reliability of our power grid, and our clean energy transition.” (Supporters of the green amendment deny that the amendment would hamper renewable energy.)
Tiffany Rivera, a registered lobbyist for New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, also expressed concern that the green amendment could hurt agriculture in New Mexico. “Constitutional amendments are not needed when whole bodies of law [already] exist to protect and regulate activities that could impact the environment,” Rivera said. (Supporters of the green amendment say it wouldn’t hurt agriculture.)
After hearing from both supporters and opposition, the committee decided that the issue needs more time for discussion. So, they paused the debate and plan on continuing Friday. You can tune into that Senate Rules Committee via the New Mexico Legislature’s website.