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N.M. to Focus on Renewable Energy With Infrastructure Funds

According to officials, New Mexico's infrastructure has been chronically underfunded and insufficient. The state could receive as much as $3.7 billion from the federal infrastructure package.

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A shift away from the fossil fuel production that defined New Mexico's economy in recent years is driven by global market forces, said members of New Mexico's congressional Democrats, and must result in investment to strengthen the infrastructure needed to meet future demands.

The comments came as New Mexico's two Democrat U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan took part in a press conference Tuesday along with the state's two Democrat U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernandez and Melanie Stansbury on Congress' recent passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure now going before President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The state's lone Republican congressperson U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) voted against the package and was not on the press call.

Herrell's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Senate voted to advance the package known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in August, with the U.S. House of Representatives sending it to the President's desk on Friday.

The package of bills made investments in sectors like renewable energy, roads, broadband access and water supply improvements that would all benefit rural and Tribal communities in New Mexico, the congresspeople said.

Heinrich said New Mexico would particularly benefit as it long struggled with aging and underfunded infrastructure.

He contended the bill would send $3.7 billion to New Mexico infrastructure initially, with more available via competitive grants.

"New Mexico has for long been held back by a systemic lack of investment in our infrastructure," Heinrich said. "We simply can't afford to wait any longer on delivering the kind of investments needed to ensure a better future."

ENERGY TRANSITION


The package would provide funding to aid in a transition to "clean energy," Heinrich said, which was being driven by the private market as investors called on energy companies to reduce their carbon footprints in response to international concerns about climate change.

He said the cost for capital for oil and gas projects was increasing, while the cost for renewable projects were dropping.

That means the U.S. and New Mexico must make investments in growth areas like renewable energy, "green" hydrogen production or plugging abandoned wells, Heinrich said, to address climate change while creating jobs and revenue for New Mexicans.

"That recognizes a fundamental shift in investment patterns," Heinrich said. "So, it's up to us to make smart investments now to recognize that these changes are coming whether we want them to come or not and to position ourselves in those places where we can see growth."

The package would invest $50 billion nationwide to protect against drought, heat and floods, while also adding a $65 billion investment into renewable energy and its transmission.

About $7.5 billion would go to funding electrical vehicle chargers throughout the U.S., while funding zero-emission school buses and modernizing transmission infrastructure to move energy from renewable sources.

Leger Fernandez said Congress must also pass the Build Back Better Act, another Biden-led legislative initiative being considered in Congress, to complete the agenda started in the infrastructure bill.

Build Back Better would provide additional grant funds to support oil and gas communities amid the transition away from fossil fuels, Leger Fernandez said.

She said funds could be made available under the Economic Development Act earmarked for projects to diversify state economies such as New Mexico's which depends on oil and gas revenue for about a third of its budget.

Build Back Better also included $20 billion in funds for workforce training to assist workers displaced during the transition, Leger Fernandez said.

"This is targeted to those places that have oil and gas and coal communities," she said. "This is what is happening because of global forces. The electrification of vehicles and other issues are going to cause there to be less oil and gas drilled in the future.

"Instead of putting our head in the sand, we need to get prepared and get ahead of it and say how do we act so that we're not left behind so that we have that just transition."

OIL AND GAS


Lujan touted his introduction of the Revive Economic Growth and Reclaim Orphaned Wells (REGROW) Act, key parts of which were included in the infrastructure package to provide funding for the federal government, states and Tribal nations to plug and remediate abandoned oil and gas wells.

This bill, Lujan said, would help address pollution from fossil fuels while creating new jobs in New Mexico and across the U.S, investing up to $4 billion for the work nationwide.

"This legislation also includes my REGROW Act, legislation I authored to clean up thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells that leak methane and pose serious health risks to our communities," Lujan said.

Leger Fernandez said the Build Back Better Act, if passed, would augment the REGROW Act's funding with legislation she introduced to increase bonding energy companies pay when drilling wells to fund cleanup should those wells go abandoned.

ROADS


Upon its passage, the infrastructure package would earmark up to $2.5 billion in federal aid to New Mexico for highway improvement programs, including another $225 million for bridge repairs and replacements.

"This law puts our infrastructure spending on par with the New Deal," Heinrich said.

The package also included Lujan's Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone (RIDE) Act to deploy new drunk driving detection technology into newly manufactured vehicles.

Lujan said he was once a victim of a drunk driving accident and argued it was essential to provide funding to make New Mexico's and the nation's roadways safer from drunk drivers.

"So, no more families have to endure the headache and heartache and the challenges of having to lose a loved one," he said.

INTERNET ACCESS


The congresspeople estimate up to 220,000 New Mexicans lack adequate Internet access, namely in rural parts of the state and on Tribal land.

The infrastructure package would send $100 million to New Mexico to help improve Internet coverage across the state.

Stansbury said access to broadband Internet was needed for students to succeed in school and was essential to New Mexicans' "daily lives," but was lacking in many remote areas of the rural state.

"We all know that many, many New Mexicans in our state, including tribal and rural areas, do not have access to broadband. We desperately need those investments," Stansbury said. "Our state is poised and ready to put those dollars to work and we must make sure every New Mexican can connect to high-speed broadband all across the state."

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