Protests and dissent as EIB looks at rolling back environmental protections

By Matthew Reichbach

As the Environmental Improvement Board looks at rolling back environmental rules instituted under former Governor Bill Richardson, protesters from the Occupy Movement and environmental groups have made their voices heard opposing the changes.

The existing environmental rules that the Martinez-appointed board is considering repealing relate to carbon dioxide emissions. Industry groups including Public Service Company of New Mexico (also known as PNM) and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, back the repeal of the rules.

Occupy Santa Fe attended the hearing and used a “mic check” to have their voices heard.

During the “mic check,” which involves a large group repeating what one person says to amplify the speech without using megaphones, the Occupy protesters talked about concerns with coal-fired power plants.

“Coal burning electricity causes cancer, asthma, neurological disorders and lung disease,” the protesters said. “Elders and children are most at risk.”

David Van Winkle, Energy Chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, testified at the meeting and urged the EIB to not to roll back the environmental protections.

“The existing fleet of fossil fuel based electricity energy sources, specifically coal-fired power plants like the San Juan Generating Station produce significant air pollution,” Van Winkle told the EIB according to a transcript sent by the Sierra Club. “While pollution reduction improvements have been realized at San Juan due to the 2005 Consent Decree actions, carbon and nitrogen oxide pollution continue at high levels.”

Van Winkle urged renewable resources, including solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency as better ways to “serve [the] energy needs” of New Mexico.

A study by New Energy Economy, an environmental organization, found that, “Far from being costly for consumers and the New Mexico economy, we find that the compliance scenario creates jobs and saves money for electricity consumers while reducing greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions in New Mexico. In our estimation, implementing such a compliance scenario would help to mitigate future increases in electricity bills in New Mexico.”

Industry groups say that complying with the new environmental rules would significantly increase the cost of electricity in New Mexico and that cost would be passed on to consumers.

Groups to take Martinez administration to court over building code rollback

By Matthew Reichbach

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center announced Monday that a group including small businesses and energy efficiency groups are challenging the rollback of energy conservation building codes.

The action comes a month after the State Construction Industries Commission voted 7-1 to roll back the energy efficiency building codes.

Clearly New Mexico reported on the June 10 vote to roll back the energy efficiency building codes to the levels that they were at in 2009, the lowest possible to still receive funding from the Department of Energy.

“The Construction Industries Commission and the Construction Industries Division appear to have taken this action despite the absence of evidence supporting repeal of the energy conservation codes” said NMELC attorney and Executive Director Douglas Meiklejohn in a statement Monday. “We hope that the Court of Appeals will determine that decisions such as these must be supported by evidence in the record.”

One bone of contention is the process used to vote on the building codes.

Shrayas Jatkar of the Sierra Club New Mexico said in the public comment portion of the Construction Industries Commission meeting last month that there was a “stark difference” between the process used to roll back the building codes and the process that led to the building codes changes in December of 2010.

“It took 14 months to develop the code last time around and there were open meetings,” Jatkar told Clearly New Mexico in a short interview. The decision to roll back the energy efficiency building codes happened six months after Susana Martinez took office and replaced members of the commission.

The appeals were, according to a press release by NMELC, filed by NMELC “for Environment New Mexico, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Sundancer Creations Custom Builders, LLC, eSolved, Inc., and several individuals who supported the adoption of the codes promulgated in 2010.”

The codes would reduce energy use by about 20 percent.

Martinez’s administration said the codes were too costly for builders to implement and that would be passed on to property owners. The lawsuit says there is no evidence supporting the action that the Construction Industries Commission took.

“The Construction Industries Commission and the Construction Industries Division appear to have taken this action despite the absence of evidence supporting repeal of the energy conservation codes” said Douglas Meiklejohn, NMELC attorney and Executive Director, in a statement. “We hope that the Court of Appeals will determine that decisions such as these must be supported by evidence in the record.”

EIB Decision on Statewide Carbon Cap Coming Today

By Tracy Dingmann

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board is expected to make its final decision sometime today (Dec. 6) on a proposal to reduce statewide carbon emissions.

If approved, the carbon emission rules would apply only to the state’s largest polluters, including power plants, refineries and natural gas processing hubs.

Approval of the proposal would kick-start an economic engine to bring jobs to New Mexico and to showcase the state as a national leader in the area of halting or slowing harmful climate change.

The proposal to reduce carbon pollution is the result of a petition from New Energy Economy (NEE), a New Mexico-based nonprofit organization, and 17 other organizations representing communities, businesses and rural interests.

“Our proposal is about unleashing investment that will drive innovation and create jobs for New Mexico families and communities while demonstrating national leadership,” said New Energy Economy president John Fogarty. “Clean energy is the next Industrial Revolution and we’re in a race to see who will lead that revolution. Let’s stake a claim and make New Mexico the beneficiary of the prosperity that’s there for the taking.”

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What New Mexicans Told The EIB About Capping Carbon Emissions

By Tracy Dingmann

Last week I attended hearings held by the Environmental Improvement Board on a carbon cap petition filed by the New Mexico group New Energy Economy and 16 other organizations, including faith-based groups, medical professionals, indigenous groups, rural industries and others.

You might have heard a little something about the NEE petition – it asks the state to set a cap on New Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions in order to encourage traditional energy companies to curb carbon pollution caused by oil and gas and focus more on developing alternative energy sources instead.

With the petition, New Mexico stands poised to become a national leader in renewable energy and manufacturing – not to mention a safer place and more healthy place for all of us to live and work and raise our families.

Oil and gas industry people, along with utilities, have vigorously opposed the measure, saying it would increase their cost of doing business and cause them to pass those increases along to their consumers.

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New Mexico Could Be A Leader In Capping Carbon Emissions

By Tracy Dingmann

People who care about the global effects of carbon emissions are looking with great interest at what’s happening here in New Mexico, as the Environmental Improvement board considers a proposal that could jump-start a nationwide effort to implement national policy on climate control.

Hearings began Monday in Santa Fe on the New Energy Economy (NEE) proposal to implement a statewide carbon cap. It’s been almost two years since the local advocacy group filed the petition, which has been revised and held up in legal proceedings as it has made its way through the state process.

If the proposal is approved, New Mexico could stand as a leader in the fight to beat back global warming and serve as a model for similar legislation at state, regional or national levels. It could also become a hub for the renewable energy industry, with an increase in investments from the clean energy industry and a plethora of clean, well-paying jobs across the sector.

Unfortunately, in the words of Environmental Improvement Board chairwoman Gay Dillingham, Monday’s hearings on the long-delayed proposal got off to a “cumbersome” start. Continue reading

PNM Revises Its Solar Incentive Program

While I usually take the critical role when writing about PNM, I do have to give them kudos for working recently with local solar and business advocates to refine their solar procurement plan to expand their solar incentive program instead of capping it off like they had originally sought to do.

PNM seemingly was forced to come up with a better solution to their solar incentive program as they moved to cap the program off, yet were met with a large pushback from a variety of renewable energy advocates.  And from the looks of it, the solution PNM has come up with will allow them to continue on with their customer-owned solar program.

Not only now will it continue, but the program now has an opportunity to expand from 2 megawatts to up to 24 megawatts now.  To allow them to continue on with the program it seems PNM had to make some changes to the way they distribute the renewable energy credits (REC) back to their customers who produce more energy than they use from their renewable energy system.

Before customers would be given a ranged credit (dependent on the size of their system) for the energy they gave back to the grid, but now that has changed.  From an Albuquerque Journal Business Outlook article:

The new program would dispense with the REC and net metering credits. It would place the small and large PV programs under a newly named Solar Performance Program that will offer a customer a one-price credit for energy production.

Initially, credits would vary from 22 cents to 26 cents per kilowatt hour, based on the size of the system, with smaller systems in general receiving larger credits. Residential systems, typically under 10 kilowatts, would qualify the owner for a credit of 26 cents per kilowatt hour.

As customer participation levels are met, the credits would decline over time to no lower than 16 cents for new participants in the program.

“The declining payments help control the overall cost impact of the program and reflect expectations that the cost of installing solar power will continue to decline,” said PNM spokeswoman Cathy Garber.

This is indeed a much better solution for both PNM’s customers and the many hardworking renewable energy based businesses in the state.  The program will still allow customers to gain credits from their renewable energy system that they have on their home or business and gives solar installation companies confidence in the deal as it aims to be sustained for many years to come.

I’m glad to be able to give kudos to PNM making moves in the right direction in regards to helping make renewable energy use more accessible to their customers.  Now if I can only convince them to consider hiring local solar installers for their newly proposed solar generating plant. . . .

Black Mesa Mining Permit Withdrawn

From Indiancountrytoday.com

One of ex-President Bush’s last second (or as they call it “11th Hour Decisions”) decisions was to grant Peabody Coal Company in Black Mesa, AZ a Life of Mine permit.   The permit would have allowed the Peabody Coal Company to re-open the Black Mesa Coal Mine. It also would have allowed Peabody Energy to consolidate Black Mesa Mine with the Kayenta mines, which would have added up to 65,000-acres of mines.

Thankfully a Department of Interior Law Judge recently withdrew the permit. The Judge’s thought process behind his ruling from a Native Times article:

According to Judge Robert G. Holt, “OSM violated NEPA [National Environmental Protection Act] by not preparing a supplemental draft EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] when Peabody changed the proposed action. As a result, the Final EIS did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives to the new proposed action, described the wrong environmental baseline, and did not achieve the informed decision-making and meaningful public comment required by NEPA.  Because of the defective Final EIS, OSM’s decision to issue a revised permit to Peabody must be vacated and remanded to OSM for further action.”

Many local advocates had appealed the life of mine permit last year, citing similar reasons that the judge based his ruling on.   And now their work has come to fruition a year later.

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Green Pathways to Prosperity: EnergyWorks and the Santa Fe Housing Trust (Part 2)

This is the second in a three part series on the Green Pathways for Prosperity Tour.  Check back to see more of the awesome green job opportunities that are going on right here in New Mexico.

As much fun as I was having with the Youthworks River Restoration crew, we still had to move on to see some other green jobs involving young people.  Yet, we were going to see something much different from the river restoration project.  We were on our way to see the EnergyWorks crew performing energy efficiency retrofits on a Santa Fe home.

Within the emerging green economy, home efficiency retrofits are looked upon as a great entry level green job that can provide many people with an occupation.  Retrofits performed on homes also greatly contribute to decreasing overall emissions from buildings and saves residents money on their utility bills.

The program in Santa Fe is a collaboration between the Santa Fe Housing Community Trust and Youthworks.  Here’s a quick synopsis of the program from the Housing Trust’s Resource Development Manager, Daniel Werwath:

“EnergyWorks is an integrated residential home energy efficiency pilot program that combines green job training, workforce development, low-cost energy savings installation and youth educational components to address multiple pressing community needs. The primary structure of the program is based around an energy audit and a regime of energy saving items under $100 that is installed in under two hours by a three-person crew of green jobs interns, at no cost to the homeowner.”

Werwath continued, “As part of the program, YouthWorks crewmembers also receive free G.E.D. classes and participate in two entry-level classes at the Santa Fe Community College. Since the launch of the program one crew member has received their G.E.D. and two have enrolled in the Community College full time.”

This program originally was being funded by the Sierra Club and the City of Santa Fe, but now they are using the Community Development Block Grant Recovery program funds from the Federal Recovery Package.  The EnergyWorks program is a great example of how our Recovery funds have been put to good use.

So after receiving the informative briefing from Daniel, the group on the tour was led to a home where some trained retrofitters were hard at work.  Here’s Miguel Olivas explaining some of the work he is doing with doorways and windows to make them more efficient:

Youthworks Retrofits1 from Juan on Vimeo.

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Green Pathways to Prosperity: Santa Fe Youthworks, River and Life Restoration (Part 1)

This is the first post of a three part series regarding The Green Pathways for Prosperity Tour in Santa Fe that was hosted by the CVNM Education fund.  Check back to see more on the variety of green job opportunities that the tour presented.

I’ve had many a conversation with my peers about growing up in New Mexico.  Most of the time one of us will end up mentioning how some of their friends dropped out of school and are now just trying to survive in their hometown, while other friends have moved out of state in search of new opportunities.

This may not be the case for everyone, but it has been and still is the case for a large number of youth in New Mexico.  Yet it’s not the problem that I intend to write about today, but rather one of the smart and local solutions to it.

Santa Fe Youthworks is a non-profit organization with a goal of “Helping young people create opportunities to succeed.”  I know that I’ve written about them before, yet I’ve never had the opportunity to see them in action.  Thus I was happy to see that the first stop of the tour was at a Youthworks river restoration site.

As I got there I was greeted by a crew of about ten youths.  I hit it off with a few of them and began to listen to them proudly talk about the work they’ve done and the team they’ve built together.  Their great energy and confidence was something to see.

At the project site, the crew explained how they are restoring pieces of the river system around Santa Fe by helping to prevent land subsidence, are removing non-native plant species, and cleaning up the area.  Here’s a quick clip of Youthworks member Bernadette Mayez explaining more of the work they do:

Youthworks River Restoration 2 from Juan on Vimeo

As my conversation with the members of Youthworks continued, Amery Romero walked up to me.

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Van Jones: Still an inspiration to me (Updated)

VanJones (UPDATE – 9/10/09: Van Jones was viciously attacked because he believes America can be a better place for all people. To express your support for Van, sign the petition on the new website sponsored by the League of Young Voters.)

I got some news this weekend that came as somewhat of a surprise to me.  In fact I woke up to multiple texts early Sunday morning from friends notifying me that Van Jones, the special advisor for green jobs to our nation’s administration, had just stepped down from his position.

During the past year and a half, I have worked with the organization Green for All to help push for good, green jobs in our state of New Mexico.  Throughout this time I was able to meet Van a few times, and I even had the honor of introducing him in front of thousands of people on the opening night of the 2009 Powershift conference.

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