SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – For years New Mexico has been working towards more environmentally friendly choices across the state. Now, legislators are considering putting new standards in place for gasoline and fuels.
Thursday, February 23, legislators in the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee debated House Bill 426. Sponsored by a handful of Democratic legislators, the bill would let New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board set and enforce a statewide clean fuel standard.
The bill would give New Mexico’s Environment Department the ability to set rules related to the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. While it’s not clear exactly what sorts of rules would be put in place, it might push gas companies to re-formulate gasoline in order to burn more cleanly, for example. California already does something similar by setting standards based on the carbon emissions of fuels, but they give companies some freedom to decide how they reach those standards.
“That will create jobs, grow our economy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos), who co-sponsored the bill. The standards would focus on “equity, justice, and affordability of these fuels for New Mexicans,” she added.
The bill would also push investor-owned electric utilities to invest in electric vehicle or electric transportation projects. In particular, companies would be required to invest in communities that are “disproportionately impacted,” such as low-income communities.
But Rep. James G. Townsend (R-Chaves, Eddy & Otero) argued that the bill “does not protect those peoples’ standard of living.” And he added that he thought the bill would increase the cost of gasoline in the state. As evidence, he pointed to the cost of gas in Arizona and California, which have clean fuel standards.
“Although I can agree with you, that you could have some benefits from this proposed rulemaking, from an environmental standpoint,” Townsend said, “you are going to harm the standard of living of many New Mexicans.”
In response, bill co-sponsor Ortez disagreed. “Low-income New Mexicans will benefit deeply from having different fuel options. They’re not going to see increased prices at the pump,” Ortez said. In addition, Ortez argued that New Mexicans are already feeling the impacts of climate change, that New Mexicans can affect climate change, and that New Mexico should be an example for other states to follow when it comes to addressing climate change.
Still feeling that the bill would raise New Mexicans’ gas prices, Townsend suggested an amendment: “Let’s add an amendment to the bill that says that the cost of fuel to New Mexico residents cannot be higher than the average of Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, who are neighboring energy producing states,” he said.
“I’m not going to do that,” Ortez replied. And Townsend followed up by promising to fight the bill as it moves forward.
And move forward it did. The committee was split by party line: The four Republican legislators in the committee voted against the bill but were overpowered by the seven Democratic legislators who voted in favor. Still, the bill faces scrutiny from more committees before it has a chance to become law.