By Tracy Dingmann
A bill that would bar the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board from making any greenhouse gas rules that are more stringent than federal law is making its way through Senate committees.
The bill, SB 489, sponsored by Clinton Harden, (R-Clovis), would not reverse the two carbon cap proposals that were approved in the waning days of the Richardson Administration. Those proposals drew strong opposition from the oil and gas industry and from Gov. Susana Martinez, who vowed during her campaign to reverse them if elected governor.
(A few weeks ago, Clearly New Mexico learned that Gov. Martinez had appointed a Small Business-Friendly task force filled with representatives of the oil and gas industry and other large corporate interests to evaluate regulations like the carbon caps. The group made it clear that rolling back regulations was their number one priority, and discussed a number of strategies to accomplish this that included legislation, executive orders, and other tactics.)
Though SB 489 wouldn’t reverse the current caps, it would severely hamper New Mexico’s ability to protect its environment in the future, opponents say.
Friends of the Environment Oppose It
“Because we support more jobs and greater security and less drought and less pollution, we oppose this bill,” said Sandy Buffett, executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico. “We need to be able to continue our position as a leader and not hamstring ourselves.”
If passed, SB 489 would put New Mexico at a competitive disadvantage, because the states that act earliest on climate change will benefit from early action credits when the federal government finally acts on the issue, Buffett said. Credits could include the federal government rewarding early-acting states for some of their future compliance costs, she said.
There is also a huge financial concern at stake. In a recent report from Sandia National Laboratories, damage to the U.S. economy from climate change over the next 40 years is estimated to be anywhere between 13 and 26 billion, said Buffett.
“New Mexico is going to be hit hard by the effects of climate change and drought and there is a risk to our state if we lose the ability to innovate and diversify and attract green energy industries,” Buffett said.
But there are things that New Mexico could do now to help offset or prevent that loss.
Synapse Energy Economics released a report that calculates that New Mexico could add $2 billion to the state’s economy and create 17,500 jobs through 2020 by reducing carbon pollution.
A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says natural gas will play a leading role in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions over the next several decades, largely by replacing older, inefficient coal plants with highly efficient combined-cycle gas generation.
New Mexico, which is rich in natural gas, could benefit greatly if this conversion is enacted, Buffet said.
Seek a Permanent Remedy From the Court
The bill also drew criticism from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center staff attorney Bruce Frederick.
The fact that there is no federal greenhouse gas standard means the bill will not have any effect until there is a federal law to compare it to, said Frederick.
If there is no federal law to be compared to, than there is no standard to be more stringent than, he explained.
Also, he added that when and if there is a federal law, it will likely preempt any state law.
“Most of us know that this bill is a knee-jerk reaction that is over-the-top and ineffective,” Frederick said.
If the oil and gas industry, certain legislators and Gov. Martinez want to carry out their stated plans to halt or reverse carbon cap plans in New Mexico, they will have to seek a permanent, legal remedy, he said.
“State government delegated broad power to these boards to do these things,” Frederick said. “They need to either let them do their jobs, or, if they think they’ve overstepped their power, ask the courts to take it away.”