A Breath of Not So Fresh Air

So now that the Waxman-Markey bill has passed the House, we can all breath a sigh of relief right?  Unfortunately, no.  Hopes are high as the United States ventures into breaking ground with its first piece of climate legislation. Yet many are also  disappointed with the implications of the bill.

For one thing, the bill still bases its reductions on the 450 ppm (parts per million) carbon level, rather than the more realistic and recommended level of 350 ppm.  Then it goes a step further (maybe lower is a better word here), since, the way it looks now, the bill will help in making a big, no gigantic, reduction of about 4-5% by the year 2020.  The bill says its 17%, but that’s based on the 450 ppm level, which just won’t work.

The other problem is the amount of carbon allowances that will be given directly back to the companies who just paid them.  Polluting entities are set up to get all the way up to 85% back of the fines they will pay for excess emissions.

So how does a climate bill end up rewarding polluters more and setting pretty insignificant numbers for pollution reduction?  Wasn’t the point of this bill to begin punishing polluters who have gone too far and begin helping people who are in need in our country by helping provide new job opportunities and moving to cleaner energy?

This scenario with this bill has gotten so bizarre that my friend has begun calling it the Wackey-Merman bill, which, in his words, is, “like a mythic half/man, half/sea creature: the head has the science that tells us what is necessary yet the lower half of the body is the slimy political part that can’t seem to walk the talk.”

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Realizing Our Potential: Clean Energy Town Hall

greenJobSolarPanel

I was lucky to have been involved in organizing last Saturday’s Clean Energy and the Economy Town Hall.  It gave me the opportunity to work with great organizations like Sierra Club, Conservation Voters NM, Greenpeace, NM Interfaith Power and Light, National Wildlife Federation and a few others.

A major goal of the town hall was to engage a wide range of elected officials (city councilors, legislators, and county commissioners) with the community around the subject of building a new economy in New Mexico centered on clean energy.

Since my group, New Mexico Youth Organized, has been working on a green jobs initiative since last year, I held a workshop at the town hall entitled, “The Potential for Green Jobs in NM.”  This subject seemed to resonate throughout the town hall, so I want to share some of my info in the hope that it may prove helpful to others working on similar initiatives.

Green Jobs in New Mexico

I define green jobs as “family supporting, career-track jobs that directly contribute to preserving or enhancing environmental quality.”  Many may not know that New Mexico is poised to be a leader in green jobs training. Not only do we have the great wind training programs at Mesalands Community College, but San Juan College already has a working solar panel installation program as well.  Other local community colleges (College of Santa Fe, CNM, UNM) are expanding their curriculum to include green job training programs.

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Green Jobs Bills Signed: Moving to a sustainable tomorrow

richardsonbillsigning1Yesterday Governor Bill Richardson signed a number of great “green” bills.  By so doing, he helped New Mexico take many steps towards more sustainable economic growth in the future.

New Mexico Youth Organized had the honor of working with outstanding groups like New Energy Economy, Conservation Voters New Mexico and others to help enact two key pieces of legislation.

Senate Bill 318, sponsored by Senator Eric Griego, earmarks $1 million dollars of the Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP) fund to go towards supporting and bringing in green businesses, such as solar manufacturing, wind technology, bio-fuels production, and energy retrofits.

House Bill 622, sponsored by Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, has many components of the Federal 2007 Green Jobs Bill. It will provide support to the Department of Higher Education for implementing green jobs training programs in colleges throughout the state.  Not only that, it also prioritizes many local populations (single mothers, unemployed, at risk youth) to provide them with new opportunities in the emerging green economy.

Environmental leaders across the state also worked with state legislators to enact the following policies:  add a 10% state tax credit to the 30% federal tax credit to help people install solar power systems (SB 257), provide tax credits for production of utility scale solar and geothermal plants (SB 237), and form financing districts (SB 647) or use a special property tax assessment to also help New Mexico residents install renewable energy technology.

New Mexico is beginning to move in a direction where we can begin to use our vastly underused resources of solar, wind, and geothermal.  Significant federal support exists to help take us in this direction, and, from what I saw at yesterday’s signing ceremony, we are beginning to gain a great amount of state support as well.

With the enactment of these policies, we are creating opportunities for residents of New Mexico to become part of the green economy.

A big round of thanks goes out to all the great individuals and organizations that played a part in this success. A thank you as well to Governor Richardson, Senator Griego, Speaker Lujan, and all the other legislators who are helping to create a more sustainable New Mexico.

Putting the Brown Back in Green

What does this statement even mean?  Mainly it’s talking of how Hispanics, Native-Americans, and African-Americans across the country are getting reacquainted with their roots in the soil.

I’m sure that most people of color are aware of these roots, but they have other issues (getting a good education, finding a good job, surviving in this crazy world) to worry about, than to think about organic farming and working on sustainability and conservation.  Yet what I’m going to be saying by the end of this is that this green thing that many of us have been ignoring is one of the simple answers to help improve our lives and our communities.

My first major act of environmentalism was also an act of survival.

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Session Wrap: Big Wins for Ethics Reform, Green Jobs and the Environment

gavel1The gavel has sounded, the 60-day session is over, and we’re pleased to report a number of significant victories for ethics reform, green jobs and the environment.

ETHICS REFORM

On the ethics reform front, three high priority measures passed and await the Governor’s signature.

Campaign Contribution Limits: New Mexico was one of only five states with no restriction on the size of campaign donations.  Now you can scratch us from that ignominious list. Thanks to Common Cause, Senator Dede Feldman, Senator Peter Wirth, Representative Jeff Steinborn and others for their tireless work on this issue. (link)

Open Conference Committees: In years past, six designated lawmakers would often meet behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public and the news media, where they could then radically alter passed legislation.  And year after year, the Senate would kill efforts to open up these conference committees to the public.  But this year the Senate broke with tradition and passed this reform overwhelmingly.  Hats off to the sponsors, Senator Dede Feldman and Representative Joseph Cervantes.

Legislative Webcasting: 2009 was the year of sunshine.  Now audio webcasting of floor sessions of both houses is available to the public.  Primitive video webcasts of Senate floor sessions started in the last week.

Defense of Nonprofits: A number of bills were introduced to restrict the public education efforts of nonprofit organizations around legislative issues. All of these assaults of the First Amendment were turned back.  In an impressive show of unity, the nonprofit community rose up to meet the threat, including the ACLU, American Cancer Society, Amigos Bravos, Audubon Society, Common Cause, Environmental Law Center, New Energy Economy, Conservation Voters New Mexico, AFSCME and many others.

GREEN JOBS

New Mexico Youth Organized, working with a host of allies, passed SB318.  SB 318 creates a one million dollar job-training program for green jobs. In the final hour, the legislature also passed HB 622, creating a bonding framework for green jobs.  Extra special thanks to the bill sponsors, Speaker Ben Lujan and Senator Eric Griego!

TIDDs

Conservation Voters New Mexico worked tirelessly to kill a $400 million Tax Increment Development District proposal for sprawl development west of Albuquerque. The California developer SunCal spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on industry lobbyists and advertising.  Nice work, CVNM!

Thanks to all of you for following this blog, and for your commitment to social and economic justice!

VIDEO: Youth play vital role at the Roundhouse

It’s the last day of the 2009 Legislative Session I want to recognize the important role young people played in helping to shape public policy and educate our representatives on youth issues. During the week of March 2nd young people from across the state visited the Capitol for New Mexico Children’s Cabinet Days. I was lucky to catch some of these young leaders and interview them.

They spoke about the need for green jobs and renewable energy, teen pregnancy prevention and stopping bills that would cut youth programs among many other issues. I was impressed by their level of commitment and how organized they are. It was also clear that there is great respect from the youth for Lt. Governor Diane Denish and Claire Dudley for their work to make NM Cabinet Days a success.

Check out the video here:

It has also been exciting to see the fruits of their labor with the passage of the first Green Jobs Bill, Senate Bill 318 on 3/20/09. Democracy for New Mexico blogged about this important measure.

The passage of SB 318 is a huge success for groups like New Mexico Youth Organized, Green For All, Conservation Voters NM, New Energy Economy, the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, Natural Resources Defense Council and 1Sky.

Big up’s to our young leaders!

Creating a new sector: Green Jobs Now!

Speaker Lujan

Speaker Ben Lujan

Could New Mexico become a national hub for green jobs? A package of bills modeled after the film industry legislation that’s brought a slew of television and movie productions to New Mexico could do the same thing for green jobs, say the lawmakers who sponsored the bills.

Three bills – one sponsored by House Speaker Ben Lujan and two introduced by Sen. Eric Griego – form the backbone of a robust network of incentives to be offered to schools that train workers for green jobs, to businesses who hire green workers and to companies who choose to develop green technologies in the state. Continue reading