Yesterday wasn't exactly full of victories
for New Mexico's environmental lobby. For one thing, a "bad actor" bill by Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, that would allow the state Environment Department to consider a corporation's track record on pollution when deciding to grant air quality permits
, died on the Senate floor after heated debate last night.
Also last night, SB 303
, the "Farmer Protection Act" was tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee on what Sandy Buffett, the director of Conservation Voters of New Mexico
, calls "a technicality." The bill, which may get a second chance in the Conservation Committe, is designed to shield local farmers from being sued by multinational corporations for "copyright" infringement
—when, say, some genetically modified pollen spreads into the field of a farmer
who hasn't purchased the GM seed rights and a company like Monsanto gets pissed
.According to Miguel Santistevan, a farmer, biology Ph.D. candidate and Taos Mayordomo, SB 303 "is important to me and every other farmer in New Mexico." Though there's no conclusive evidence of New Mexico farmers being sued by big biotech firms for crops contaminated by no fault of their own, Santistevan says, it's easy for genetically altered pollen to spread—especially since New Mexico approved genetically engineered alfalfa in 2006—and many of the cases are settled out of court, with attendant gag orders
on the farmers.
SB 303, then, purports to do three things:
1) block biotech firms from entering farmers' property to test their crops for contamination unless the farmer gives permission or already has a seed contract with the company;
2) hold New Mexico farmers harmless from paying court or attorney fees if they can prove the genetic contamination of their crops was accidental and from erecting protective barriers to keep out pollen; and
3) require that any lawsuit against a New Mexico farmer take place in New Mexico.
"These multinational corporations have jets; they can fly over here," Santistevan explains. "I know farmers who have change jars for gas money,
who buy a gallon or two at a time. That's the kind of economics we have, and if we allow the biotech corporations to come over here and sue our farmers, it's going to cripple our agricultural traditions and our agricultural economy."
Santistevan says he's concerned that the bill won't see daylight in the conservation committee because it's chaired by Bernadette Sanchez, D-Bernalillo, who in 2008 presented a bill
to give a $1 million appropriation for developing genetically engineered chile in New Mexico.
But, he says, "[Sanchez] owes it to us farmers
to protect us, because she opened up that can of worms, to allow biotech to come in here and
start messing with our chile."
Yet for environmentalists, not all is lost. A bill by Rep. Tom Taylor, R-San Juan, to rescind the 2008 "pit rule"
that held oil and gas companies to stricter standards for waste disposal also died this session.
the pit rule for a decline in oil and gas revenues, but back in October SFR found
that most of that decline is due to...yep, you guessed it: the recession.)
Still, Buffett calls last night's 33-32 vote
to kill the "bad actor" bill—with the deciding "nay" cast by Santa Fe Rep. Jim Trujillo (D)—"very disheartening."
"I was lobbying it to the very last second," Buffett says. "In my opinion, Rep. Trujillo voted to protect the rights of the corporate polluters over the rights of his constituents to breathe clean air."
Last year, Buffett says, a similar bill died in committee—as did a more extensive version
of the Farmer Protection Act. "We got a little closer than we thought [this year]," she says, "which was why it was especially painful." But Buffett's hopes are high for next year's 60-day session, and in the meantime, SB 303—which passed its first committee, Indian and Cultural Affairs, unanimously—still has a fighting chance. Read more updates from CVNM here