The New Mexico legislature convenes this week to revise the State’s budget to address funding shortfalls resulting from economic impacts of COVID-19. The legislature will face many tough decisions, but one easy decision is to retaining as much funding as possible for environmental and natural resources agencies - the very agencies responsible for protecting the clean air and water that are essential to public health. Limiting cuts to these agencies must be a top priority if we are to support the quickest and most equitable recovery from the pandemic for all New Mexicans.
Since taking office in 2019, Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration has worked steadfastly to restore funding for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) following eight years of de-prioritization and neglect under the Governor Martinez. In fact, from 2011 to 2019, the budget for NMED was cut by more than 31%; EMNRD was cut by over 23%. These cuts have had impacts that New Mexicans are still grappling with today, with communities across the state struggling to get adequate state support for pollution and monitoring oversight, particularly in areas near gas fields such as the Four-Corners region.
In the last budget session, the legislature increased these agencies budgets by 14.6% and 5.3%, respectively. While the last budget session’s increases still fell short of what these agencies need, they did represent some progress toward ensuring the environmental protection New Mexico deserves. But even with these increases, collectively these agencies’ budgets represent less than 1% of the State’s overall operating budget. Any cuts to these agencies’ budgets in this special session will not solve the State’s broader budget woes.
NMED and EMNRD protect New Mexico’s air, water, and lands from contamination and pollution, and without adequate funding they cannot do their job. The impacts of coronavirus are disproportionately felt in communities with poor air quality and inadequate or unsafe water supplies. In these already at-risk communities, family wellbeing is at greater risk now as the health care system struggles to keep up with a surge of patients with existing respiratory conditions. Retaining as much funding as possible for NMED and EMNRD will help ensure the availability of environmental protection that these communities need to recover and prepare for future public health challenges.
Moreover, the state government must do everything it can to protect our environment considering the multipronged attack on environmental protections waged by the Trump Administration. Changes like reversing the Bureau of Land Management and Environmental Protection Agency methane rules, and the recent adoption of the Dirty Water Rule—which undermines federal protection for rain-dependent streams common to New Mexico—are bound to have real impacts on New Mexicans. It’s more important than ever that we have strong protections at the state level in order to counter the reckless administrative actions coming from the White House. The upcoming special session is an opportunity to reinforce that commitment.
The proactive leadership of Governor Lujan Grisham has undoubtedly had a positive impact on the long-term ability of our state to recover and rebuild from the human and economic toll of the virus. Now is not the time to undermine these efforts by again underfunding the agencies responsible for ensuring the long-term health of New Mexicans. The Governor’s FY 2021 budget request in the 2020 session reflected the need to get these agencies on track. While pre-coronavirus appropriations did not provide everything needed, they represented positive forward progress.
Understandably all agencies will have to bear some cuts to their FY2021 budget. However, limiting any cuts to NMED and EMNRD budgets to the minimum is the least the legislature can do to ensure a shorter, less expensive, and less negatively impactful pandemic recovery for every day New Mexicans.