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New Mexico’s top priorities for COVID-19 relief dollars are environment and infrastructure

New Mexico’s top priorities for COVID-19 relief dollars are environment and infrastructure

Millions of dollars were spent to plug abandoned oil and gas wells following the New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed a spending bill that was passed during the second Special Legislative Session in 2021.

The session was called Dec. 3 to approve redistricting plans by the Legislature. However, it also included House Bill 2, which served as a spending plan for federal COVID-19 relief funds under the American Rescue Act. It will now head into the regular budget session that will begin in January 2022.

HB 2 allocated $479 Million to multiple state agencies, including the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resource Department (EMNRD), which manages oil and natural gas operations in the state and leads conservation efforts on state land.

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A total of $43.5million was allocated to environmental conservation and outdoor recreation.

The bill provided $3.5 million to clean up abandoned oil and natural gas wells. Often operators abandon them, leaving the state to cover remediation.

The cost of plugging wells that aren’t working and the cost of remediating the land can run into the millions, depending on the site and the wells installed.

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Earlier this summer, EMNRD estimated that New Mexico had 700 such wells.

The Department also received $20,000,000 through HB 2 for the construction or renovation of facilities at New Mexico state parks. This will help address a backlog in deferred maintenance projects.

Sarah Cottrell Propst, EMNRD Cabinet Secretary, stated that the legislature recognized the importance outdoor recreation and environmental preservation by funding improvements in state parks and remediating lands impacted from the oil and gas industries.

We are making significant investments in our outdoor recreation business and protecting the environment.

More: Abandoned: New Mexico may risk losing $10 billion if it fails to plug its unused oil-and-gas wells

Outdoor recreation receives a boost

To help preserve lands for outdoor recreation, HB 2 provided a total of $10,000,000 to New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division within New Mexico Economic Development Department.

This money was used to fund the Divisions Trails+ program, which grants grants to improve or renovate hiking trails in the state, and $3 million to New Mexico’s Outdoor Equity Fund, which funds educational programs to increase outdoor recreation participation among children.

Alicia Keyes, Economic Development Cabinet Secretary, stated that the dollars would diversify New Mexico’s economy and help to build its outdoor recreation industry. This will create jobs and protect the environment.

More: New Mexico’s American Rescue Plan funds may support infrastructure and the environment.

Gov. Keyes stated that Lujan Grisham is a champion of New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry. She is aware that this industry can create jobs in all parts of the state but it is especially important for rural communities. They must identify outdoor recreation businesses and invest to benefit their families and create jobs.

Axie Navas, Director of Outdoor Recreation Division said that the funding will allow the Division 14 times the growth of Trails+ and triple the reach for the Outdoor Equity Fund.

The Division had awarded grants totaling more than $506,000 to 25 organizations under the Trails+ program. Another grant was given to 57 organizations by the Outdoor Equity Fund. This program supports outdoor activities participation by 22,000 New Mexican children.

More: COVID-19 was a disaster for outdoor recreation. New Mexico is showing signs of recovery.

Navas stated that this funding is a long-term commitment to the state’s people and landscapes.

The bill also provided $10 million for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), which will administer its River Stewardship Program. This program will provide grant funds to projects in New Mexico that aim to improve New Mexico’s rivers and streams.

The funding will go to projects that restore wetlands, address flooding and drought impacts, and reduce pollution in order to protect wildlife.

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James Kenney, NMED Cabinet secretary, said that by investing in our rivers wetlands, we are making New Mexico more resilient to climate change and ensuring that our watersheds support cultural, economic and live-sustaining traditions in our state.

New Mexicans also have an economic win today because the funding supports local jobs through construction and project design.

American Rescue Act spending is also focused on infrastructure

When deciding how to spend federal relief dollars, Lujan Grisham was also very concerned about New Mexico’s infrastructure needs.

More: US Congress passes $1.2 trillion Biden infrastructure deal. How will it affect New Mexico’s economy?

The bill included $10 million each for developing electric vehicle charging station development, as well as work at regional airfields and the Clean Up New Mexico Roadway Beautification program through the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

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Road projects in many counties were funded with $142 million, including Doa Ana and urban Bernalillo counties.

The department thanks the legislators for making the general appropriations. They also authorized the NMDOT’s expenditure of millions of dollars to high-priority initiatives like roadside litter, supporting environment infrastructure, and aviation economic growth. They also attended to projects at various stages of design and construction, or near completion, stated Michael Sandoval, NMDOT Cabinet secretary.

Here’s a list containing road projects that were funded by the bill

  • The Interstate 40 corridor runs through McKinley, Cibola and Cibola counties.

  • Santa Teresa, Dona Ana County: A new state road.

  • New Mexico Highway 128, Carlsbad to Jalin Eddy and Lea Counties.

  • New Mexico Highway 180, Grant County.

  • Bobby Foster Road to Mesa Del Sol (Bernalillo County).

  • Interstate 25 in Bernalillo County, from Montgomery Boulevard to Comanche Road

  • Santa Fe County, Cerrillos Road

  • Pinon Hills Boulevard, San Juan County;

  • New Mexico Highway 39 in Mosquero, Harding and San Miguel Counties.

Another $133million was used to expand broadband access throughout the state. $25 Million was dedicated to housing aid for the homeless, as well as improving access to affordable housing.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

This article was originally published on Carlsbad Current Argus Lujan Grisham signs plan for spending federal COVID-19 relief dollars

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