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EIB Decides on State Carbon Cap; Helena Chemical Air Permit

By Tracy Dingmann

Two long-awaited decisions emerged from today’s meeting of the state Environmental Improvement Board in Santa Fe.

By a 4 to 1 vote, the board voted to adopt a petition by New Energy Economy that will create a new state carbon pollution reduction program that will lead the rest of the nation in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and create living-wage jobs for New Mexicans.

The new state pollution limit will require the state’s largest polluters to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels starting in 2013, an effective date amended by the EIB.

“This new policy makes New Mexico the nation’s leader in carbon pollution reduction while at the same time stimulating our economy and creating jobs for New Mexico families and communities,” said NEE senior policy adviser Mariel Nanasi. “The board understands that the same technologies that can reduce carbon pollution can also make New Mexico more competitive in the clean energy economy, which means more long-term, well-paying jobs for New Mexicans.”

The approval is the culmination of a two-year petition process started by NEE, a New Mexico-based nonprofit organization.

The Details of the Petition

  • The carbon reduction program applies to the states largest polluters, stationary sources that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide – primarily, electrical generating power plants, refineries, and natural gas processing and compression facilities.
  • The program calls for 3 percent carbon pollution reductions annually from 2010 levels.
  • The program will take effect in 2013 and will end in 2020, or sooner if a national or regional carbon pollution reduction program involving New Mexico is implemented.
  • The rules include provisions to keep emitters’ costs down, including: An annual limit on how much emitters will have to spend to comply; a “banking” system that would allowemitters to hold onto credits for future use; and an “off ramp” if businesses can show that the rules will prove detrimental to their economic viability.
  • The rule also contains provisions for a reevaluation in 2014.

The rules were first proposed in December 2008, when New Mexico Environmental Law Center filed a petition with the EIB on behalf of New Energy Economy, asking the board to reduce carbon emissions. New Energy Economy based its petition on the assertion that carbon pollution constitutes “air pollution” and threatens the health of people and natural resources, under the Air Quality Control Act. Further, the petition requested the reduction of carbon pollution pursuant to the board’s authority to abate and prevent nuisances under the Environmental Improvement Act.

New Mexico’s largest utility, PNM Resources, and the oil and gas industries sued to prevent New Energy Economy’s petition from being heard by the EIB, but the New Mexico Supreme Court in an unprecedented unanimous decision overruled a lower court injunction, allowing the process to go forward.

Another Hotly-Anticipated Decision

As reported by the blog NMPolitics.net, the  EIB also voted 4 to 1 to require Helena Chemical Company to continue to maintain an air quality permit in order to operate its fertilizer-blending plant in Mesquite, N.M.

“Helena has been inattentive to environmental laws and disrespectful of its neighbors,” Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry said in a news release. “The EIB’s decision, affirming that Helena should be subject to air quality protections through a state permit, is the right decision for the environment and the residents of Mesquite.”

The Sierra Club, which has done extensive work in Mesquite regarding the matter, applauded the EIB’s ruling in a news release today.

“After years of putting the health, safety and welfare of New Mexicans at risk, the EIB ruling today will help ensure that Helena Chemical is a good corporate neighbor,” said MichaelCasaus, Sierra Club senior field organizing manager. “We are extremely pleased that the EIB ruled to protect the quality of life for families in Mesquite.”

In the past few years, the state Environment Department has fined Tennessee-based Helena Chemical nearly half a million dollars for environmental violations, most relating to air quality at its Mesquite facility. Many residents of the community, aided by the local group Mesquite Community Action, had pressed for the state to hold the company more accountable for actions that affected the health and quality of life of those living in the town.

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