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.
A Cumbersome Start
For hours Monday afternoon, a battery of attorneys from the oil and gas industry peppered the day’s only witness, Steve Michel of Western Resource Advocates, about everything from what qualified him as an expert to whether he is an alternative energy customer himself.
Little time was spent asking Michel about the heart of his earlier statements in favor of the cap, which included his testimony that climate change is imminent and that establishing a cap in New Mexico could prompt other states and the federal government to take action. Michel also testified that the energy saved by implementing a cap would likely offset all but a negligible cost to New Mexico energy consumers.
Opponent of the cap – mostly representatives of the state’s oil and gas industry, claim enforcing stricter rules will cause companies to locate elsewhere and force existing companies to spend more on operations and pass those costs onto consumers.
At one point, attorney Bruce Frederick, who represents NEE’s position in the procedure, felt compelled to exclaim that his witness is not a criminal and needn’t be subject to questions he considered repetitive and irrelevant.
In an interview during a break in the hearing, Dillingham told me that the committee was doing its best to keep the sprawling process fair to both sides.
“I think it is going to be cumbersome at this rate,” Dillingham told me. “We have been here all day and we’re just still hearing a cross of the first witness. We are trying to be as efficient as possible and to make sure all the questions are asked and answered.”
Dillingham acknowledged that some of the questions asked of Michel by attorneys opposing the cap may have “veered into personal territory.”
It was evident to many in the audience that the interrogatory tactics employed by the opposition were meant to slow down the procedure and rattle the witness.
But if it was meant to intimidate Michel, it didn’t work, said Frederick, who works for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center.
“I think it’s going great,” Frederick told me during a break in testimony Monday. “We’re finally getting to the meat of our proposal. We’ve been through all the irrelevant parts. Mr. Michel can answer all those questions. He can handle that.”
Frederick said he welcomes the chance to debate the case on its merits and get all the information out there.
“This is a regulatory hearing. The purpose is to develop a regulation and to determine what changes should come about.”
The hearing is scheduled to continue through the end of the week, with a decision expected later this fall.