On Saturday, the Senate Conservation Committee met via Zoom to consider S.B. 149, which claims to be a bill that prohibits new fracking licenses but would in actuality kill all fracking in the State of New Mexico. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Bernalillo) and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Bernalillo), both candidates for the open U.S. House seat being vacated by Deb Haaland.
The bill’s sponsor had a long-winded and controversial out-of-state witness, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, who has committed her life’s work to end fracking.
After a long list of reasons why she hated fracking, such as her accusation that it “turns fresh water into poison,” she ultimately admitted she did not have the science to conclude what fracking’s effects were regarding the transmission of alleged “toxic chemicals.” She also claimed “toxic air pollution” occurred “as soon as the drill bit goes into the ground,” another misleading statement.
Steingraber later revealed the entire point of her testimony, to bring forth “environmental justice” to what she believed are “disproportionately affected” groups, including black people, Native Americans, and others. She also accused the oil and gas industry of lying, saying employment statistics regarding oil and gas’ job creation numbers “has been greatly exaggerated by the industry.” She noted how the industry’s fatality rate is “four to seven times” that of the national workforce. However, most American workforce jobs do not require such manual labor capabilities of jobs in industries such as oil and gas, construction, and other such labor-heavy industries. She left out statistics from these comparable professions.
Many supporters of the bill, many being lawyers who would no doubt benefit off of litigation tied to “environmental justice” said the bill would “take an enormous responsibility of regulating that industry to make sure our environmental and public health is protected,” as someone from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center noted. Others from dark money groups such as the Sierra Club gave their support for the bill.
Many folks who live in the areas that would be most affected by Sedillo Lopez and Roybal Caballero’s bill spoke up about how it would affect their livelihoods. One woman who lived in the oil patch said, “I’ve lived in this state for forty years. I thought this bill was about not issuing any more permits. I now understand it is the full intent of the bill is to stop fracking altogether.”
Sen. Sedillo Lopez said of her bill, it would “put urgency on the need to regulate, adding that, “New Mexico should be open for business, not be open for exploitation. With this industry, we have been exploited.” She did not back up her arguments with facts, other than deferring to her out-of-state witness.
Sedillo Lopez also didn’t know how to answer basic questions from her fellow senators about the bill, such as its fiscal impacts on the state, accusing Gov. Michelle Luja n Grisham’s cabinet of flubbing the numbers provided in the official fiscal impact of the bill in the fiscal impact report (FIR).
Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana) asked, “Has the governor committed to sign this bill if you were to pass it?” Sedillo Lopez admitted she had not.
Cervantes continued, fiscal “impact for the year from July one of this year to next year… would be $1.65 billion.” He asked Sedillo Lopez if she knew exactly how much of the state budget would be lost due to her bill.
“The FIR impact would be about a fourth of the budget,” Sedillo-Lopez said the impact “would be less or the same as the impact of the last year,” meaning the COVID-19 pandemic crisis where the oil and gas industry plummeted its production to record levels, leaving irreparable damage to the state economy.
Sedillo Lopez later conceded, “I understand that the impact would be anywhere from a fourth and a third of our budget.” Sedillo Lopez claimed the FIR was wrong and did not consider “one thousand permits” already granted by the state. She said the info was “incorrect,” saying it assumed that there would be “no new wells.”
Cervantes pressed her, saying, “You are saying if we were to pass this bill,” it would be a proposal “even [Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s] own agencies reject” He added, “ I would hope you would correct the [New Mexico] Secretary of Energy and all the other cabinet secretaries” and say they ‘don’t know what they’re doing.’”
Then Cervantes added, “If we assume the administration knows what it’s doing and we have to cut our budget form a third to a fourth,… do you have a bill that would supplant that amount of money in the works” to “generate that thirty percent or forty percent of revenue in the state?”
Sedillo-Lopez fumbled around, saying there were many “tax bills,” including one that would “reverse the tax cuts that were during the Richardson and Martinez administrations.”
“Which one of the tax bills would be the largest tax increase and how much would it generate to that $1.6 billion?”
“I do not know the answer to that,” said Sedillo-Lopez. Her co-sponsor, Rep. Roybal Caballero, said, “I don’t think any of us have an answer to a specific question,” and if “they equate to the amount the senator [Cervantes] is asking.”
Also, during questioning, Senators David Gallegos (R-Eddy & Lea) and Steven Neville (R-San Juan), who live on opposite sides of the state, noted how they have lived right next to fracking wells, raising their families next to them for years and their families and communities are even healthier than those where Sedillo Lopez and Roybal Caballero live in–Bernalillo County.
Sen. Gallegos told Sedillo Lopez that she doesn’t know the issue, as he and his constituents do. “I know you don’t live there, you don’t go to school there, nor do you need a doctor from there,” but it is “important to our constituents” in the oil patch. He also said S.B. 149 is “going to inflict fiscal damage to the state” and “harm the hospital system and the school districts” across New Mexico that rely on oil and gas funding.
Neville took exception with the expert witness’ testimony, saying the truth “is just not is what is being portrayed by the expert and the sponsor.”
Charwoman Liz Stefanics (D-Bernalillo, Lincoln, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Torrance, and Valencia) asked Sedillo-Lopez if she was open to turning the proposal into a “reporting bill versus a pause on fracking” to “gain factual information from all of the departments,” Sedillo Lopez said she would only consider such a change in the bill’s last scheduled committee–Senate Finance.
Sen. Gallegos asked for a vote to table the bill. The motion died on a bipartisan vote of 5-4, with Sen. Cervantes voting with the Republicans on the committee to table the bill. A motion to pass the bill from Sedillo-Lopez and seconded by newly sworn-in Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Doña Ana) with the same vote of 5-4.
After the vote, Chairwoman Stefanics said, “While I support moving on to various energy sources, I am also very concerned about affecting the finances of our state.” S.B. 149 now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Here’s what some are saying about the bill and its sponsors: