The New Mexico House of Representatives proposed a budget that included funding for many environmental initiatives, including outdoor recreation and the cleaning up of abandoned oil and gas wells.
The State House Appropriations and Finance Committee introduced House Bill 2 During a Tuesday meeting that would define the States budget using more than a half a million dollars in federal funding from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a measure signed into law by Congress to aid states in their recovery from the COVID-19 healthcare crisis.
As proposed by the Legislative Finance Committee, HB 2 was to be voted upon by both the House of Representatives and the Senate during the ongoing Special Legislative Session.
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It would be a major source of funds to pay for spending plans that will be discussed at the January 30-day regular legislative session. This session would likely be centered on budgetary issues.
HB 2 would send approximately $1.07 billion in federal money to the States Appropriation Contingency Fund of the General Fund. The funds will be divided up among state agencies and their projects for fiscal year 2022 and 2025.
Environmental, oil and gas issues being addressed
In the budget proposal, $20 million was allocated to New Mexico State Parks Division for improving access to state parks. $10 million was also allocated to the New Mexico Environment Department in support of river and surface water programs.
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New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division would receive $10 million more to support its work in improving hiking trails. It also will receive $10 million towards the Outdoor Equity Fund, which funds outdoor recreation programs for children throughout the state.
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish will receive $5 million to support conservation efforts and buy properties, namely for species that are potentially endangered or threatened.
The States Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, (EMNRD), would be awarded $3.5 Million to plug and remediate oil and gas wells that have been abandoned.
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New Mexico Rep. Nathan Small (D-36) stated during his presentation to the committee that additional federal funding was expected for abandoned well clean-up, but that the proposed state appropriation would enable New Mexico to start planning for the work.
He stated that the federal money will be available for states that produce oil and gas to plug their wells with a large amount of federal funds.
This allows New Mexico to get out of the gate quickly and first, ready and able to put as much federal money to use, putting New Mexicans on the job and protecting our environment, while allowing our energy sector to continue to move forward at historic levels.
Patty Ludstrom, D-9, Committee Chair, stated that the bill was intended to specifically spend federal ARPA funds and should partly be used to support New Mexico’s natural resources.
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She stated that conservation was essential to the needs of the state.
Ludstrom stated that New Mexico has a wide range of natural resources that are essential in supporting the outdoor industry’s growth and thriving jobs.
House Bill 2 recognizes that our state must conserve these amazing natural spaces and places. It sets aside almost $50 million for standalone conservation projects that will be used to upgrade and maintain our beautiful national monuments and state parks.
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Brittany Fallon is the policy director of New Mexico Wild’s environmental group. She said that increased use and visitation during the pandemic had caused strain in wildlife areas and public parks. She needed help from the Legislature to recover.
Fallon stated that many of our parks and open spaces were destroyed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fallon added that we have not made the financial investments necessary to maintain trails, parking lots, and visitor facilities.
The proposed budget for the LFC aims to increase our outdoor recreation economy and ensure that all New Mexican families have equal access to outdoor spaces.
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Mimi Stewart, D-17, is the state Senate President Pro Tem. She stated that she would support HB 2 in Senate because it could help protect the environment and diversify the state’s economy.
According to research by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, analysts believed that increased abandon well plugging could lead to more jobs in the state. However, the outdoor recreation industry supported 26,000 jobs and contributed approximately $2 billion to New Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Stewart stated that now is the right time to invest in New Mexico’s natural resources and increase the outdoor economy to help communities and businesses recover from the pandemic.
We have an opportunity to make sure that tourism destinations across New Mexico have the resources they need in order to remain appealing destinations for tourists.
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Funding for broadband and roads
Other large appropriations of ARPA money would send $142.5 million the New Mexico Department of Transportation, for nine road projects, including State Highway 128 from Carlsbad through Jal. A further $10 million would assist the DOT in building electric vehicle charging stations.
Cathrynn Brown, a Carlsbad state representative (R-55), stated that broadband access for rural New Mexicans was a concern.
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Brown pointed to Queen, in southern Eddy County. Its population of 50 people, Brown stated, does not have access either to broadband or cellphone services.
The bill included $100 million for Department of Information Technology to develop alternative broadband infrastructure such as satellite broadband and $26 million for that Department to expand and rebuild broadband infrastructure throughout the state.
Brown expressed concern about broadband access. It’s a serious issue that has many public safety implications.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.