Federal relief dollars could support the environment, infrastructure

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A budget proposed to the New Mexico House of Representatives included funding for many environmental initiatives such as outdoor recreation and the cleanup of abandoned oil and gas wells.

The State House Credit and Finance Committee presented Bill House 2 at a meeting Tuesday that would set the state’s budget for next year using more than $ 1 billion in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), an initiative promulgated by Congress to help states to recover from the health of the COVID-19 crisis.

As developed by the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), HB 2 was to be voted on by both the House and the Senate during the current special legislative session.

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This would be a key source of funds for spending plans to be discussed in the next 30-day regular legislative session in January, which would likely focus on budget matters.

In total, HB 2 would send around $ 1.07 billion in federal funds to the State Contingency Fund within the General Fund, which would be distributed among state agencies and their projects for fiscal years 2022 and 2025.

Address environmental, oil and gas issues

The budget proposal provided $ 20 million for the New Mexico State Parks division to improve access to state parks, as well as $ 10 million for the New Mexico Department of the Environment to support river and surface water programs.

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An additional $ 10 million would go to the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division to support its hiking trail improvements and the Outdoor Equity Fund, which is used to develop outdoor recreation programs for children. across the state.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fisheries will receive $ 5 million to support conservation efforts and acquire properties, including for potentially threatened or endangered species.

The state’s Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources (EMNRD) would get $ 3.5 million to plug and repair abandoned oil and gas wells.

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New Mexico Representative Nathan Small (D-36) said during his presentation to the committee that additional federal funds were expected for the cleanup of abandoned wells, but the state’s proposed appropriation would allow New Mexico to start planning the work.

“There is a very large amount of federal money that will be available to energy producing states to plug oil and gas wells,” he said.

“This allows New Mexico to come out the door quickly and first, ready to put so much of that federal money to work, to put New Mexicans to work, and to protect our environment while allowing our energy industry to work.” continue to progress at historic levels. ”

Committee chair Representative Patty Ludstrom (D-9) said the bill was specifically intended to spend federal ARPA funds and should be used, in part, to support New Mexico’s natural resources. .

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She said conservation was “critical” for the needs of the state.

“New Mexico is home to a wide array of natural resources that are vital to supporting our growing and flourishing outdoor industry and the jobs associated with it,” Ludstrom said.

“Bill 2 recognizes the need for our state to conserve these wonderful natural spaces and places and sets aside nearly $ 50 million for stand-alone conservation projects that will be used to maintain and enhance our magnificent state parks and national monuments. . “

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Brittany Fallon, policy director for environmental group New Mexico Wild, said public parks and wildlife areas were strained by increased visitation and use during the pandemic and needed support from the legislature to recover.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our public parks and open spaces were loved to death by those seeking a place of recreation, and we have yet to make the financial investments necessary to maintain the trails, the parking lots and facilities for visitors, ”Fallon mentioned.

“The LFC’s proposed budget aims to stimulate our growing outdoor recreation economy while ensuring all families in New Mexico have equitable access to outdoor spaces. “

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State Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart (D-17) said she plans to support HB 2 in the Senate, which would not only protect the environment but also diversify the economy. of State.

Analysts estimated that an increase in plugging abandoned wells could create jobs in the state, while the outdoor recreation industry supports 26,000 jobs and contributes about $ 2 billion to gross domestic product (GDP). ) from New Mexico, according to a study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Mimi stewart

“Now is the time to make a strong investment in New Mexico’s natural resources and stimulate the outdoor economy to help our businesses and communities recover from the pandemic,” said Stewart.

“Right now, we have the ability to ensure that the places we promote for tourism across New Mexico receive the resources they need to remain attractive destinations for visitors. “

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Financing of broadband, roads

Another large appropriation from ARPA funds would send $ 142.5 million to the New Mexico Department of Transportation for nine highway projects, including State Highway 128 from Carlsbad to Jal, while an additional $ 10 million would help the New Mexico Department of Transportation. DOT to build charging stations for electric vehicles.

Carlsbad State Representative Cathrynn Brown (R-55) said one concern for her was broadband access for rural New Mexicans.

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State Representative Cathrynn Brown (R-55) told Eddy County commissioners on April 20, 2021 that New Mexico's old law was not good for working families in New Mexico.

She pointed to the community of Queen in southern Eddy County, where its population of around 50, Brown said, does not have access to broadband and mobile phone service.

The bill included $ 100 million for the IT department to develop alternative broadband infrastructure like satellite broadband, and $ 26 million for this department to rebuild and expand the infrastructure to broadband. strip across the state.

“I’m very worried about this,” Brown said of broadband access. “It’s a big problem and it has public safety ramifications. “

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.


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