Illustration: Eiko Ojala

Rural Advocacy Committee vision and support for NM legislature 2021 bills

 

Ensuring a just energy transition for New Mexico requires that resources and smart policies be developed by and for the state’s rural communities.  Many of the workers affected by the move away from fossil fuels live in rural counties, and many of the solutions to climate change can also be practiced there too, such as carbon sequestration in healthy soil practices and the establishment of wind farms.  There are several issues that are critical to rural communities and the role they play in New Mexico’s clean future:

 

  •       Broadband. Quality internet service provides educational opportunities, clean energy vocational training, health care, business infrastructure, agricultural  markets and engagement in civic life.
  •       Water. Climate change has turned what would have been a moderate short term drought into the second worst drought in 1,200 years. Now in its 20th year, the drought is taking its toll on ranchers, farmers and outdoor industries.  This essential resource must be managed to the benefit of all New Mexicans including future generations.       
  •       Voice at the table. For rural communities to thrive and contribute to the diversification of NM’s economy we must have access to opportunities such as grants and partnerships and be part of the teams making decisions about the many interrelated and nuanced issues defining rural life. 
  •       Agriculture.  We support independent family farmers and ranchers who value stewardship and climate solutions by promoting healthy soils, smart water management and the reduction of food waste.  While 97% of NM-grown food is exported from the state, 95% of food consumed here is imported. The State should encourage programs that grow and connect food producers and food processors to consumers, especially children and seniors, all within New Mexico. If New Mexico can increase consumption of local agricultural products by 15 percent, it could raise per capita gross domestic product by some $750 million annually and provide more jobs in rural areas.
  •       Energy. New Mexico has the potential to produce the least expensive renewable electricity in the nation, which will attract companies pledged to use 100% electricity. Rural counties need the tools to take advantage of this and other economic development possibilities, such as access to vocational training, broadband, water and the ability to participate in renewable energy ourselves.  We also need to help our oil and coal workers find alternative careers.

 

 

SB 101 Agricultural Workforce Development. (Woods/Sedilla Lopez) This bill allocates $100,000 to an education program that provides a 50% match for farmers to hire and train interns in their agricultural business.

This bill did not pass, however $125K was appropriated to the NM Department of Agriculture for the program. 

HB 89  Healthy Soils (Chatfield, Chandler, Small, Armstrong) This bill enables all New Mexico residents who qualify for a state tax refund to voluntarily contribute all or part of their refund to the Healthy Soil Program administered by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA). This is a great way to engage the wider citizenry in the value and importance of soil health and stewardship. This is also a good way to raise public awareness and support for the program without asking for an additional state appropriation beyond the critically important requested allocation in NMDA’s budget.

PASSED and the NM Healthy Soils Program was funded in the NMDA budget for $217K plus it received an additional $50K via junior money.

HB 121  Meat Processing & Marketing Program (Chatfield, Armstrong, Dow,

Crowder, Zamora) appropriates $150K to the NM Department of Agriculture for a statewide meat processing and marketing program. The program seeks to expand access to local markets to beef produced locally.

Did not pass. However, $75K for a mobile livestock slaughter system feasibility study was appropriated and as well as $50K to advance and expand locally grown food products in retail markets to spur demand and assist in replenishing supply chains impacted by COVID19.

HB 170 NM Grown for Early Childhood Centers (G. Armstrong, Dow) appropriates $100K from the general fund to the Early Childhood Education and Care Department to create a program for child care centers to purchase NM-grown fruits and vegetables. 

Did not pass, but programs bringing local produce to senior citizens were allocated funds.

HB 207 The Food, Hunger and Farm Act of 2021 (Stansbury, Ferrary) Onepager will direct NMSU to create a roadmap for modernizing the food system, including agricultural production, distribution and the value chain structure. Maintain and expand investment in ag, including support for operations and creation of data and info sharing system.

The bill did not pass, but $275K was appropriated for the program from the sponsor’s junior money.

HB 48 / SB 105 Weather Stations  (Zamora/Woods) appropriates $3.5 million to  expand and upgrade the network of weather stations (from 26 to 138) to better document rainfall throughout the state.   These bills would allow ranchers and farmers to receive payments through drought insurance based on more accurate rainfall measurements closer to their locations. NM is the 5th largest state in size, but we only have 26 weather stations. Farmers and ranchers have been denied payments because gauges have been up to 100 miles away. The new gauges would also measure soil moisture and would measure real time data. 

These bills did not pass, but $422,600 was appropriated towards the purchase of weather stations.

HB 77 NE NM Ground Water Resource Study (Chatfield) appropriates $200K from the general fund to NMSU Cooperative service to complete a survey of the amount of groundwater in NE New Mexico. It will examine conservation-oriented agriculture practices that use data-water resources with soil, grass and animal health – to make informed rangeland decisions.

This bill did not pass, however SB 377 appropriated $175K to study groundwater resources.

HB 10 / SB 93  Broadband Development Division/Broadband Access and Expansion Act. (Figuera/Padilla) These bills will organize and expand current IT efforts into an office or division to better coordinate data collection necessary to apply for Federal and State broadband grants, keep track of and help negotiate rights of ways agreements, make sure companies live up to their promised service quality and help entities within the state with the application processes for grants. 

PASSED.

HB 16 Rural Opportunities (R. Montoya) creates an interim Legislative “Rural Opportunities Committee” with membership coming from key interim committees to develop legislative proposals to assure that rural communities are able to take advantage of programs and opportunities in developing services and infrastructure including broadband, electricity, wastewater treatment, and electricity, and to perform long range planning for rural needs.

HM 33 replaced HB 16 and PASSED.

SB 193 Rural Equity Ombud (Hemphill, Diamond) directs the Department of Finance and Administration to employ at least one “rural equity ombudsman” within its Local Government Division to work on issues of concern to rural and frontier communities with the governor’s office, the Legislature, state agencies, counties and municipalities, federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

The rural equity ombudsman would provide technical assistance, planning assistance, advocacy support, complaint resolution, and bill analysis and testimony. $180K

PASSED

HB 200 Water Trust Board and Project (McQueen, Stewart)  Onepager. Sixteen years and $15 million+ in federal funds have been wasted pursuing an infeasible and unaffordable  Gila River diversion project. Now that the Gila diversion has been defunded it is  time to designate a new group to help determine how the remaining $80 million will be allocated to  water projects in southwest New Mexico (Grant, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron counties). This bill amends the NM Unit Fund Act (2011) to designate the Water Trust Board to advise how those funds should be allocated and prohibits spending any more on Gila diversion. 

PASSED

HB 30  Water Lease Use and Effective Dates (Chandler, Wirth, Ortez) would prohibit water being leased until the application for it is publicly announced, has the opportunity to go through a hearing and is finally approved. The bill is supported by people who have spent years fighting the owners of the Augustin Plains Ranch in Catron/Socorro counties. 

Did not pass.

SB 212  Interstate Stream Commission Members  (Wirth) This bill broadens and diversifies the Interstate Stream Commission membership requirements so more stakeholders are represented across political parties, counties and tribes, and  water organizations (irrigation or conservancy districts, drinking water utilities, acequia or community ditch). It also stipulates years of experience in NM water resources and puts term limits on the board.  $200K.

  Did not pass.

HB 106/SB84: Community Solar Act (Roybal Caballero, Stefanics, Lopez, Ferrary) Onepager. SB 084 creates a subscriber-based community solar program. It tasks the Public Regulation Commission with generating rules by November 1, 2021, and providing a report to the legislature within 3 years. It also enables rural electric distribution cooperatives to participate.

SB 84 PASSED, but with amendments that gave renewable energy credits to utilities and did not allow universities or cities to be subscribers.

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