by Philip Finkelstein, Citizens’ Climate Lobby
Another state has made headway in their efforts to combat climate change. Yet again, the progress has been pushed by youth citizens as they fight for their future—a future in which the planet has not been completely ravaged by the degradative forces of greenhouse gas emissions and the increasing accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere.
Students of Santa Fe Prep School have recognized what’s at stake, lobbying the New Mexico State Senate to pass their memorial on investigating the viability of a statewide Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) policy akin to that endorsed by CCL. Tabatha Hirsch and Isaac Odai, along with Rowan Dwyer, Bettina Broyles, Henry Jacobs and Michelle Sawunyama, drafted the memorial for the 2017 Legislative Session, solicited sponsorship, and passed two Senate committee hearings. Last month, they the New Mexico State Senate successfully passed the students’ memorial.
Learning & implementing CCL strategies
The students took all this action after attending the CCL National Conference in Washington, D.C., last June. They picked up a lot of information and inspiration at the conference in preparation for their testimony, but last year’s legislative session ended before they could get scheduled for the Senate floor.
This only invigorated them, and four additional students joined their ranks at the onset of 2018: Jon McHorse, Sam Gilbert, Natalie Barr and Savannah McCall. They were now a group of 10, and they revised the memorial for the 2018 Legislative Session to focus on a CF&D study at the state, rather than federal, level to improve their chances at success. They continued to lobby senators, oil and gas representatives, and local organizations, under the guidance of the Santa Fe CCL chapter, before once again appearing before the Senate. Despite highly critical questioning during the committee hearings and vigorous opposition from oil patch senators, this time they made it to the floor. There, Tabatha and Isaac had their shot to act as expert witnesses.
Success in the Senate
On February 13, 2018, their hard work came to fruition when the State Senate passed Memorial 23 by a majority vote of 24-14. The memorial calls upon an interim legislative committee to study the possibility of implementing CF&D legislation in New Mexico. Lynn Pickard of the Santa Fe chapter said, “While it is not a full blown endorsement, it is a major accomplishment.” The memorial, which is a formal expression of legislative desire, has called for a study of CF&D based on the Santa Fe students’ commitment to get behind a solution to climate change, after extensive research of CF&D as their solution of choice. Though the memorial does not directly support CCL’s federal proposal, it forwards along the broader objective of enacting CF&D by drawing attention to CCL’s plan in an adapted format, which is poised to lead to high profile discussion in the upcoming months.
This is why Todd Elvins, CCL Action Coordination, is hopeful that “the New Mexico CCL chapters can use the memorial to generate political will and attract other grasstops leaders to endorse CF&D.” The New Mexico Legislature only meets for one or two months during the year, but interim committees meet year round between legislative sessions. One of these committees, presumably Water and Natural Resources, is now expected to place this memorial on their agenda. Direct research by legislative branch staff for the purpose of conducting a public hearing on the issue has serious potential to bolster CCL’s mission, especially considering the feasibility of submitting the REMI report and the CCL Congressional district-by-district household study as part of the evidence in support of CF&D.
A big step for New Mexico
Paul Biderman, co-chair of the Santa Fe chapter and supporter of the memorial since its conception, was also impressed by the students’ perseverance, stating, “This is a significant statement by a legislative body that a comprehensive legislative solution to climate change is worth considering during valuable committee time.” This is especially noteworthy in a state that relies heavily on petroleum production for its jobs and revenues—depending on the year, well over a quarter of the state’s budget derives from oil and gas production. The memorial is the first formal statement Paul has seen come out of the New Mexico Legislature expressing concern for climate change and recognizing the need for a solution, which is, indeed, very promising.
The work, however, is just beginning. The students now have to ensure that the study goes ahead in the interim committee, while using scientifically and economically sound information, backed up by expert testimony. If all goes to plan, an effective study will lay the groundwork for developing climate initiatives in the next legislative session between January and March of 2019, when a new governor will be in office, one who hopefully shows more concern about the climate. Fortunately, the chair of the Water and Natural Resources Interim Committee happens to be running for
Governor, so there’s real opportunity to see the memorial become law. And it’s all thanks to a few motivated students and CCL leadership strategies.
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