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Bill advances in New Mexico to gird against climate crises

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A legislative panel advanced a bill Monday that would help local governments plan in advance for climate-related threats to public health such as wildfires, flooding, extreme heat and rapid erosion.

The initiative from Democratic state Sen. Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe aims to foster greater resilience to climate change through grants of up to $250,000 to local government and tribal agencies. A new bureau at the state Department of Health would oversee distributions from an initial $5 million fund.

“We’ve had several events, traumas in our state — wildfires, floods, drought, contaminated water — issues that really confound communities and that communities do not know how to plan or prepare for,” Stefanics said.

New Mexico state lawmakers are contemplating a variety of public investments to help communities recover from a devastating 2022 wildfires and prepare for future crises. The Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon Fire last year erupted into the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history, only to be followed by ruinous flooding and erosion.

Stefanics said her proposal might help Santa Fe residents plan and respond to incursions by wildfire on the city’s eastern outskirts that intersect with forests of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The bill advanced on a 7-2 vote with two Republican legislators in opposition. Another committee hearing is scheduled before a possible Senate floor vote.

GOP state Sen. Stuart Ingle of Portales said he worries the funds won’t be used effectively.

“This seems so loosely written — I’m a little bit frightened of it,” Ingle said.