May 18, 2011

Senate Energy Committee Considers Bills Introduced by New Mexico Senators

WASHINGTON - Three bills written by Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall to benefit New Mexico were the subject of a Senate hearing today. A hearing marks the first step toward Congressional passage.

One of the bills the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands considered today was the Río Grande del Norte Conservation Establishment Act, which would protect approximately 236,000 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Taos and Río Arriba counties by designating a combination of "conservation" and "wilderness" areas.

The vast majority of the land - 214,600 acres - would be managed as a conservation area. Two other areas - the 13,400-acre Cerro del Yuta on the east-side and the 8,000-acre Río San Antonio in the west - will be managed as wilderness.

The subcommittee also considered a bill Bingaman and Udall introduced to allow New Mexico to spend federal funds to cleanup abandoned uranium mines.

Under the Abandoned Mine Land AML program, the U.S. Department of the Interior is authorized to collect revenue from coal companies for a fund that cleans up abandoned mines. Each state receives a share of the AML fund, but the Interior Department currently restricts the ability of states to use some of that funding to clean up non-coal mines. As a result, New Mexico has not been able to focus the funding on one of its priorities - to clean up uranium mines.

The bill makes clear that those funds can be used for non-coal cleanup, paving the way for New Mexico to tap into its $21 million over the next few years to clean up abandoned uranium mines.

Finally, the hearing examined legislation authored by the New Mexico senators to expand a program that provides young people with job opportunities, while helping to repair and restore the country's public lands.

The Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2011 expands on the existing Public Lands Corps by expanding the scope of corps projects to reflect new challenges such as climate change. Additionally, the bill would add incentives to attract new participants, especially from underrepresented populations, and pave the way for increased funding.

"These bills have broad support in New Mexico and I will be pushing for their swift approval in the Senate," Bingaman said. "Today's hearing was an important first step toward that end."

"With today's hearing before Senator Bingaman's Energy Committee, we've made important progress in our work to pass three key pieces of legislation that will help protect New Mexico's people and culture," Udall said. "Moving forward, we'll continue pushing for final passage by the full Senate."