On January 24, the Hydrogen Hub Development Act, House Bill 4 was introduced for consideration by the 2022 New Mexico legislature. HB 4 is sponsored by Gallup Democrat Representative Patricia Lundstrom Las Cruces and Democrat Representative Nathan Small sponsoring the bill. Lundstrom is the chairperson of the powerful Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) and House Bill 4. The bill is supported by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham who has made passage of the bill a major priority in the 30-day short session where she controls the agenda.
House Bill 4 (HB 4) would create a legal framework for hydrogen energy development in the state. Lujan Grisham Administration government officials and the oil and gas industry contend that the development of the state’s hydrogen can provide a tool for the transition to a clean energy economy. They argue that hydrogen has many potential applications as a relatively clean-burning fuel that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide.
The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill, approved by the U.S. Congress and signed into law last year by President Joe Biden, includes $8 billion to build four initial “hydrogen hubs” around the country. It also includes $1 billion in federal assistance for hydrogen-technology research and development.
Governor Lujan Grisham added HB 4 to agenda call for the 30 day short session and promoted the bill as a way to significantly boost efforts to lower carbon emissions in New Mexico while at the same time creating a whole new industry that offers sustainable, high-paying jobs. Supporters argued that the new industry would help northwestern New Mexico where the transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels is adversely impacting local communities.
A detailed Analysis and Commentary of the Hydrogen Hub Development Act can be found here:
“Hydrogen Hub Development Act Introduced; The Pros and Cons; “Consequences Of Getting It Wrong Are Too Dire”; Hold Special Session On Environmental Issues and HB4 Or Hold Over Until 2023”
TABLED IN COMMITEE
On January 27, a mere 6 days after introduction and at its very first committee hearing and after 6 hours of discussion and debate, the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted to table the measure 6 to 4. Both Democrats and Republicans voted in opposition to the measure.
The committee hearing attracting considerable interest with upwards of 300 public participants listening on line and dozens of supporters and opponents providing comments on the legislation. Before the committee hearing began in great earnest, Galisteo Democrat Representative Matthew McQueen, the chairman of the committee, conducted a 20-second online poll that showed 73% of respondents opposed the legislation.
Industry leaders, local officials and economic development professionals from rural counties that would benefit from hydrogen development testified in favor of the bill. However, 40 environmentalists and concerned citizens from around the state spoke out against it, citing widespread fear that promoting and accelerating hydrogen development with government incentives would hurt, rather than help, state efforts to combat climate change.
REACTION TO DEFEAT
After the 6-4 vote to table the bill, Las Cruces area Democrat Representative Nathan Small, one of sponsors of the bill, said he was disappointed. Notwithstanding his disappointment, Small expressed hope the HB 4 could still win approval during the legislative session and had this to say:
“I think we need to keep working this session to take in the input. … “I don’t think it’s acceptable to give up and say ‘next session’ or ‘next year.’”
Links to quoted news sources are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is not at all realistic to think that House Bill 4 will be enacted during the 2020 legislative session. There is very little doubt that the Hydrogen Hub Development Act is one of the most complicated, scientific and technical pieces of legislation to be considered by the legislature in decades. After all, it involves our environment which is why it is generating such fierce debate.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Peter Wirth identified what the real problem is when he said before
“… It’s an extremely complicated question whether carbon sequestration technology is reliable. … We need careful, deliberative analysis to see where we go.”
With 20 days left in the 30 days session that is supposed to be concentrating on budgetary matters, there is simply is not enough time to give “careful, deliberative analysis” to a new industry that may have a detrimental impact on our environment. It is very foolish to believe that part time legislators will have enough time to have a thorough understanding of the Hydrogen Hub Development Act with so much more being considered and be able to make an informed decision.
When Speaker of the House Egolf said of the Hydrogen Hub Development Act “The consequences of getting it wrong are too dire”, the chamber which he leads needs to listen and act accordingly with a memorial calling for a study and deferring the legislation to a later session.
Time is also of the essence given the available funding and the environmental crisis of global warming. The Governor should call a special session dedicated exclusively to environmental issues, the Hydrogen Hub Development Act and New Mexico’s share of President Biden’s $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill and the $1 billion in federal assistance for hydrogen-technology research and development.
Otherwise, Hydrogen Hub Development Act should be held over to the 2023 legislative session.