PUEBLO OF SANDIA — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham predicted New Mexico would emerge as a national leader in hydrogen energy development as she delivered an optimistic speech Tuesday before hundreds of business leaders — her first big public address since the bill-signing deadline last month.
The governor, a Democrat, hinted that she is preparing to launch an ambitious tutoring program to help students next year, floated the idea of endowing the University of New Mexico medical school and pitched desalination as a potential new water source.
She also expressed optimism the federal government will choose New Mexico and three neighboring states — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — as one of the nation’s regional hubs for hydrogen development.
The four-state coalition is seeking up to $1.25 billion in federal funding. The U.S. Energy Department is expected to announce the awards later this year.
“New Mexico, I predict, is going to be the first hydrogen hub funded by the federal government,” Lujan Grisham told about 300 people gathered for a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The state, she added, is working with a bipartisan coalition “who see that New Mexico has got more potential to lead in that area than any other state in the country.”
Lujan Grisham’s focus on hydrogen has repeatedly put her at odds with environmental groups. Democratic lawmakers have been divided on the idea, and hydrogen legislation backed by the governor to create tax breaks and other incentives has failed to advance through the Legislature.
Environmental advocacy groups say the proposed methods of separating hydrogen from methane in natural gas would emit significant amounts of carbon, contributing to climate change. They also have raised concerns about the secrecy of the four-state application for a hydrogen hub.
The governor, by contrast, pitches the idea as a boon to the economy that would also benefit the environment.
“It will decarbonize transportation,” Lujan Grisham said, “and we’re going to lead. The innovation from that alone is billions of economic dollars.”
Lujan Grisham devoted much of her 35-minute speech to outlining a host of promising employment statistics — such as a 14-year low in New Mexico’s unemployment rate — and legislative successes, including a new law targeting organized retail crime and an emergency update to the medical malpractice system.
She also hinted at new initiatives she will pursue without offering many details, including:
— Offering behavioral health services by phone, text and video for students, in addition to launching the “largest statewide tutoring program per capita in the country.”
New Mexico’s math and reading scores fell significantly in the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The state ranked last in the country.
But Lujan Grisham said she expects a new law raising the minimums required for instructional time and other changes — such as tutoring — to help improve academic outcomes.
“Without having to totally revamp the existing system,” she said, “we just add to that, making sure that students and families have every single thing that they need to be successful.”
— Endowing the medical school to make it more affordable for New Mexico residents.
— Exploring desalination as a potential new water source as New Mexico pushes to build more affordable housing. The governor said she was set to visit a desalination plant Tuesday.
“I feel like our future is incredibly bright,” Lujan Grisham told the crowd at the Sandia Resort and Casino. “We are the envy — for the first time, almost in my lifetime — of states, not only (the states) around us.”