Prominent community and conservation groups today responded to ongoing legislative maneuvering to promote fossil-fueled hydrogen in New Mexico with taxpayer subsidies
The New Mexico House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee tabled the Hydrogen Hub Development Act (HB4) due to its shortcomings on Jan. 27. This past weekend, Speaker Egolf resurrected HB4) in “dummy bill” HB227 and set it on a track to be considered only by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which bill sponsor Rep. Lundstrom controls. That legislative maneuver invited swift backlash as an attempt to circumvent public engagement and proper consideration by the appropriate committees and, on Sunday, it was shelved.
A House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee poll attended by nearly 300 people showed 73% opposition from the public to the original Hydrogen Hub Development Act, HB4. While the new fossil gas bill, HB227, makes changes to HB4, the thrust of the bill remains the same: It would provide fossil gas hydrogen developers and investors with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. This includes the Blackstone Group, which at roughly $881 billion is the world’s largest hedge fund, and, through Tallgrass Energy, acquired a 75% stake in the Escalante fossil-gas hydrogen project. At 3pm on Feb. 7 at the close of the floor session, Speaker Egolf removed HB227 from the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and placed it on the Speaker’s table, “where it will remain for the remainder of the session,” he said.
A similar bill, SB194, would change the state’s definition of “renewable energy” to encompass fossil gas hydrogen and is scheduled for consideration by the Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Opponents to the various fossil gas hydrogen bills working their way through the New Mexico legislature have identified myriad problems that cannot be remedied in a rushed 30-day legislative session including:
- The failure of state agencies to fairly and meaningfully engage with local people and communities with the most at stake as fossil gas hydrogen projects move forward.
- The risk the state will lock in carbon-intensive fossil gas hydrogen under the premise that carbon capture and sequestration is an effective and immediately available tool to reduce climate impacts despite repeated failures around the world to deploy it at scale.
- The fact that fossil gas hydrogen is rapidly being overtaken by other energy sources, including “green” hydrogen produced not from fossil gas, but water and renewable energy, and will likely prove uncompetitive by 2030, leaving New Mexico locked into harmful and uncompetitive fossil gas hydrogen technology.
- The fact that fossil gas hydrogen will intensify demand for fossil gas production in New Mexico, adding to the cumulative stress of roughly 60,000 existing oil and gas wells, attendant production and pipeline infrastructure, and a legacy of orphaned and abandoned wells to the climate, land, public health, and communities, including in the Greater Chaco region.
- An ill-advised “one step forward, one step back” approach to climate action where emergent state-level methane rules are used as a pretext to justify additional fossil gas exploitation.
- The failure to target hard-to-decarbonize sectors and to instead shoe-horn hydrogen into sectors where it is inappropriate, such as electric power, home heating, and cooking.
- Use of terms such as “clean hydrogen” and “responsibly sourced gas” that, like previous attempts with “clean coal,” attempt to greenwash fossil fuels and co-opt the energy transition in service of fossil fuel CEOs and investors.
- A major distraction from higher-priority efforts to invest in renewable energy from the wind and sun, energy efficiency, and climate resilience.
“The administration’s and legislature’s approach to fossil gas hydrogen remains fatally and conceptually flawed,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Fossil gas hydrogen remains an imprudent state investment. It risks locking in ever more carbon-intensive fossil fuel infrastructure at precisely the moment we urgently need to stabilize and diversify our revenue base and economy away from boom-and-bust oil and gas cycles.”
“We should be creating a future that our children can thrive in and be proud of,” said Demis Foster, executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico. “New Mexico can have a diversified economy that works for all New Mexicans and that reflects our shared fundamental values of respect for our people and our air, land, water, and wildlife. New Mexico’s transition to a clean energy economy can create jobs that we would want for our children and grandchildren: jobs with good pay and advancement opportunities. The wind, solar, technology, and restoration industries can provide these jobs without worsening the climate crisis.”
“Oil and gas pollution disproportionately harms people of color, women, Tribal and land-based communities, immigrants, low or no-income earners, and communities dependent on extractive industries,” said Jessica Keetso, Tó Nizhóní Ání community organizer. “The Navajo Nation suffers some of the worst methane emissions and air pollution nationwide. Navajo people in these communities struggle with higher cancer risks, aggravated asthma, more emergency room visits, and missed school days. The fossil gas hydrogen bills would only worsen public health.”
“The oil & gas industry currently enjoys $20 billion per year in direct federal tax subsidies. Adding millions more in New Mexico state subsidies flies in the face of the ‘code red for humanity’ warning from the 2021 AR6 IPCC report on the climate crisis,” said Tom Solomon of 350 New Mexico. “The oil and gas industry must be committed to a managed decline, not propped up with New Mexico tax dollars.”
“The tax breaks in the bill run counter to the League’s desired tax policy principles of adequacy, efficiency, and equity,” said Hannah Burling, president of the League of Women Voters of New Mexico.“ The increasing cost of tax expenditures means revenues may be insufficient to cover growing, recurring obligations.”
“The hydrogen concept currently being portrayed in New Mexico relies on fossil fuels and unproven carbon capture technologies that would worsen climate impacts and subsidize the fossil fuel industry,” said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Investments should be in the post-fossil fuel economy of the Four Corners region with community input.”
“We must pause on hydrogen development until we fully understand the complete impact of all hydrogen theories on our land, air and sacred water. As laws and regulations are developed, transparency is key in any democracy. Free, prior and informed consent is also key for voter education and key to obtaining voter support and buy-in for any proposed legislation that will affect their lives,” said Terry Sloan, director of Southwest Native Cultures. “Meaningful consultation and collaboration by our lawmakers are also key as it implies caring, empathy and moral and ethical intent for the good of the people. I love our New Mexico mountains, deserts, rivers and lakes and the fresh air we breathe. Keep our New Mexico democracy strong by informing us of all legislation, including amendments in a timely and respectful manner and allow for meaningful constituent consultation and collaboration and remember, New Mexico is a Sacred Site on Mother Earth.”
“Now is the time to open new doors to an economy where all communities thrive and New Mexico’s air, land, water, and wildlife are protected. Fossil gas hydrogen doesn’t fit the bill. In the final weeks of the legislative session, we urge the New Mexico legislature to focus on meaningful climate action,” said Kurt Gutjahr, CAVU executive director.
“The carbon capture and sequestration that HB227 developers rely on is not commercially available, and, as the Albuquerque Journal reported, the two “carbon-capture” hydrogen facilities in operation are emitting far more carbon pollution than they’re capturing,” said Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter director.
”Frontline community members in the Permian Basin know that regulation is scarcely enforced in our region and that methane pollution is and will continue to be a huge problem harming the health of our planet and communities in Southeast New Mexico,” said Kayley Shoup, community organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future. “That is why we stand firmly against incentivizing Hydrogen Production that utilizes natural gas and increases upstream methane emissions. Any claim that Blue Hydrogen is clean is simply a myth.”
“The New Mexico Environmental Law Center joins with many other environmental groups on sharing our deep concerns regarding the hydrogen bills, which are a false solution to the climate crisis,” said Virginia Necochea, executive director of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. “These bills would likely increase New Mexico’s continued dependence on oil and natural gas rather than investing in renewable energy, despite ongoing environmental health impacts. Any solution to the climate crisis must center those most impacted by environmental contamination and amplify the voices of communities who bear the brunt of the environmental policies that may harm them.”
“An investment in blue hydrogen consigns frontline community members like my family and me to a fossil fuel future because blue hydrogen is not a stepping stone to green hydrogen,” said rancher Don Schreiber of Devil’s Spring Ranch. “Blue hydrogen is a stepping stone to another 30 years of methane pollution on our doorsteps and in our faces.”
“This is nothing short of a corrupt giveaway to the fossil fuel industry,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Saying climate destroying oil and gas is ‘clean’ is outright deceitful and a danger to New Mexico’s efforts to confront the climate crisis.” “Indigenous, youth and frontline grassroots organizations came together today at the Santa Fe legislature to denounce the reintroduction of hydrogen.
In our press statement, we nodded to the fact that our participation in democracy was undermined and that the people showed much opposition to all forms of hydrogen. We will not tolerate being ignored or not invited to the table about ‘climate solutions’ that continue the fossil fuel industry of New Mexico. Pueblo Action Alliance is against all false solutions and will continue to educate Pueblo and Indigenous communities about the harms of hydrogen production that utilize our sacred water resources” said Julia Bernal, director of Pueblo Action Alliance.