By Trip Jennings
SANTA FE – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday tabled legislation that critics said amounted to a “legislative veto” of a state-issued cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
The 7 to 4 vote, which fell along party lines, followed a more-than-hour-long debate that featured discussion about big-picture issues: the constitutional limits of legislative power; and whether, and how fast, the state was transitioning from the “old economy” of coal-fired plants to a “new economy” of solar arrays and wind-powered turbines.
The tabling of Senate Bill 191 by the committee’s Democratic majority lacked the feel of finality, however. The debate was sure to continue, given the emotional battle that has accompanied the issue of climate change and what role, if any, New Mexico should play in that conversation, state lawmakers said.
“It’s not going to end here,” Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque, said, pointing to the standing-room-only crowd that turned out to hear Friday’s debate.
The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. Carroll Leavell, would repeal a number of rules promulgated during the eight-year tenure of Democratic Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson. Most prominent among them was a rule set to go into effect in 2013 that would cap greenhouse gas emissions, which the state’s Environmental Improvement Board created last year.
This being the Judiciary Committee, with at least four attorneys as members, Leavell’s bill sparked a lawyerly debate over whether it was constitutional
or not. The question at issue: Given the system of checks and balances in American government, can a Legislature repeal an executive-branch regulation?
The Environmental Improvement Board is an executive-branch agency.
For Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, the constitutional debate seemed academic. He said the Richardson administration effectively did an end-run around the Legislature by promulgating the rules through executive order after legislation meant to accomplish the same goal failed twice with state lawmakers.
“The Legislature has a right to express an opinion” on the rule, Ryan said. “I would hope there would not be a challenge on separation of powers because that will stretch this issue out even longer.”
But Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, predicted a legal challenge the minute the legislation was signed into law.
“If we were to move forward with this, we are going in a dangerous direction that will create a hearing before the Supreme Court that we will lose,” Wirth said.
Bruce Frederick, staff attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, re-inforced Wirth’s point Friday, telling state lawmakers that a challenge would be filed if the bill were to become law.
Contact Trip Jennings at (505) 986-3050 or at tjennings@ sfnewmexican.com.