Green amendment passes House committee on second try

A joint House resolution that would allow voters to decide whether to amend the Bill of Rights section of New Mexico’s constitution to include environmental rights received a recommendation for adoption from the Energy Committee on Saturday, of the environment and natural resources of the Chamber.

This came after he failed in a 5-5 vote the previous week. After a committee replacement was introduced on Saturday, the measure received a 6-4 recommendation for the party line. Committee chairman Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, voted against the measure last week and in favor of the committee’s replacement on Saturday.

Colloquially known as the Green Amendment, HJR 2 is sponsored by Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, along with Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, Rep. Gail Chasey. , D-Albuquerque, and Senator Harold Pope, D-Albuquerque.

Ferrary said the committee replacement “removes language providing that the people of the state have a right to flora and fauna and to the protection of the natural, cultural, scenic and healthy qualities of the environment.”

She said those provisions are included in language stating that New Mexicans have a right to a clean environment and self-sustaining ecosystems.

Sedillo Lopez said the language of natural, cultural, scenic and wholesome qualities was included in the original legislation with places like the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in mind. However, she said McQueen had previously stressed that environmental protection would always protect places like Chaco.

The phrase “inalienable rights” was also dropped from the committee surrogate, at McQueen’s suggestion.

Sedillo Lopez said the measure would allow people to sue the state or other government agencies that don’t consider a project’s environmental impacts before issuing permits. These environmental impact considerations are based on state law and regulation, she said.

“Where you would see a court step in is in horrific and egregious cases where the state fails to consider the environmental impacts of a decision it makes…the cases involving green amendments in other States involve permits that are granted without consideration of environmental impact,” she said.

Republican committee members voted against the bill after raising concerns about potential legal ramifications, including lawsuits that municipalities and counties could face.

A Pattern Energy lobbyist, in public comments, said a project the company was planning in Montana ended after a lawsuit was filed by a landowner who lived in Texas but was worried about the impacts that a wind farm would have on his property in Montana. Committee members referred to his comments throughout the discussion as an example of how the measure could impact both economic development and the transition to renewable energy.

Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, explaining her affirmative vote, said she had concerns about the lawsuits, but the bill is now heading to the House Judiciary Committee where those can be addressed.

Shortly before the vote, McQueen clarified and corrected some of the committee members’ statements made earlier in the meeting. He said the measure does not allow individuals to be sued and there is no financial accountability to the state or political subdivisions like municipalities and counties. He said it was possible that attorneys’ fees could be awarded following a lawsuit filed under the Green Amendment.

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