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Monday, February 14, 2011

Rep. Nunez Bill to Abolish Water Quality Control Commission Fails on Stalemate in HENRC

AndyNunez HB 225, sponsored by Rep. Andy Nunez (Decline to State-Hatch), failed to be tabled or passed this morning in the House Energy and Natural Resources Commmittee (HENRC), on a tie vote of 6-6. The proposed legislation would abolish the Water Quality Control Commission and put the Secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and some other agencies in charge of all WQCC duties, including rulemaking. This bill also proposes to give the legislature the power to review and veto critical water quality protections.

Given the make-up of the committee -- six Democrats, five Republicans and one Decline to State who typically votes with the Republicans -- Chair Brian Egolf noted that he expects many other bills taken up by HENRC to end up in a similar stalemate. Rep. Egolf asked the committee members for advice on how to handle the situation fairly. On HB 225, he decided that a subset of the committee will work with Rep. Nunez to see if an amended bill might be crafted that has a chance of breaking the stalemate.

HB 225 previously received a Do Pass from the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee (HAGC) on a 4-3 vote. Reps. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad), Dona Irwin (D-Deming), Terry McMillan (R-Las Cruces) and Don Trip (R-Socorro) voted yes; Reps. Joe Cervantes (D-Las Cruces), Joni Gutierrez (D-Las Cruces) and James Madalena (D-Jemez Pueblo) voted no; Reps. Ray Begaye (D-Shiprock), Zack Cook (R-Ruidoso) and Larry Larranaga (R-Albuquerque) were excused.

More of Backlash v. Environmental Regulations
The effort to dissolve the WQCC comes just months after the Commission gave environmentalists two major victories -- establishing tougher rules for the dairy industry and implementing special protections for hundreds of miles of rivers and streams, lakes and wetlands in federal wilderness areas around the state.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association (NMCGA) filed a motion with the WQCC to stop the new headwaters rule, even though ranchers are exempt. WildEarth Guardians say the rule designating 199 perennial headwater streams as Outstanding National Resource Waters is a hard-won, common-sense regulation to protect stream quality. The rule was approved by the state Water Quality Control Commission December 14 in a 7-3 vote. When the WQCC said it would put off a vote on the motion, the NMCGA said it would appeal the rule to the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

The Susana Martinez administration initially refused to publish the new rule requiring dairies to protect groundwater, but a coalition of environmental groups filed suit in the New Mexico Supreme Court and won. The court ruled Martinez had violated the law by trying to use her executive powers to halt the printing of regulations, thus stopping the regulations from being enacted.

A total of 44 different dairy operators gave now-Gov. Martinez almost $50,000 during her gubernatorial campaign. It was later discovered that a lobbyist for the dairy industry helped Gov. Martinez write the executive order that tried to stop publication of the dairy rules and other environmental rules.

You might call HB 225 part of a backlash instituted by Gov. Susana Martinez and her new crony Rep. Andy Nunez -- who left the Dem Party in a huff after he lost the chairmanship of the HAGC -- against hard-fought environmental rules promulgated before Martinez took office.

Nunez Seeks Revenge
Nunez is one of a handful of Dems who publicly supported ousting Rep. Ben Lujan (D-Santa Fe) as House Speaker in favor of Rep. Joe Cervantes (D-Las Cruces). When it was clear the attempted ouster would fail, all House Dems except Nunez voted for Rep. Lujan. Rep. Nunez voted present. A few days later he changed his voter registration from Democratic to Decline to State.

In the 2010 election cycle, Rep. Nunez got about 32% -- or $17,700 -- of his campaign donations from interests related to oil, gas and chemicals, as well as $2,775 from agriculture and ranching interests, including dairy farmers. 

February 14, 2011 at 01:28 PM in Agriculture, Environment, NM Legislature 2011, Regulation, Susana Martinez, Water Issues | Permalink