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.

In Other News: NM’s Environmental Victory on Nov. 2

By Tracy Dingmann

On Nov. 2, an important environmental victory occurred that was almost – but not quite – eclipsed by Election Day news in New Mexico.

Perhaps those of you who worry about the specter of manmade climate change heard that the state Environmental Improvement Board met and approved a regional cap and trade program to cut carbon emissions in New Mexico.

The decision puts New Mexico in the forefront of the necessary movement to control carbon emissions, which scientists agree are the major cause of global warming.

In an interview with the New Mexico Business Weekly, Mariel Nanasi of the Santa Fe nonprofit New Energy Economy praised the EIB for approving the most comprehensive greenhouse gas emission reduction rules in the nation.

“It puts New Mexico ahead of the curve,” Nanasi said. “It offers opportunities for clean energy investment and development in the state, which translates into jobs, jobs, jobs.”

From the Business Weekly story on the ruling:

The decision will require about 63 facilities in New Mexico that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually to start cutting emissions by 2 percent per year below 2010 levels, beginning in 2012. The rule applies to stationary sources of emissions, rather than transportation or other sectors. In New Mexico, such stationary facilities mainly include coal- and gas-fired power plants, and oil and gas operations.

The EIB’s decision also authorizes New Mexico’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative, which includes a cap-and-trade program for affected industries. Under that system, businesses that lower emissions faster than required will receive credits that can be sold to industries in other WCI states. The credits could be used to help the slower-moving businesses comply.

Before approving the plan, which was designed and proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department, the board voted unanimously to adopt a cost-containment amendment. Under that clause, if the costs of adopting the rule reach $45 per ton of emissions, the Environment Department must come back to the board with additional cost consideration options, said Sandra Ely, the Department’s energy and environmental coordinator.

The board voted down two other amendments, including one that would have exempted the city of Farmington from the rule. “I’m really impressed with the thoughtfulness of the board–its consideration of industry’s concerns and the cost issues involved,” Ely said. “Each and every board member understood the importance of addressing climate change, but they split on how it should actually be addressed.”

In December, the EIB will meet to consider a carbon cap proposal brought forth by New Energy Economy. That proposal asks the state to implement a statewide cap – you can read more about it here.

It’s not known what the EIB will decide on the NEE proposal. But it’s clear that yesterday’s decision places New Mexico in a much-needed role as a leader in not just climate change awareness – but also in taking real action on climate change.

Imagine That: Environmentalists on an Environmental Board

By Tracy Dingmann

Could we finally just put to rest the astounding notion that being an “environmentalist” should somehow disqualify you from being a member of the Environmental Improvement Board?

I ask this in wake of the Oct. 2 Journal story titled “ GOP wants `Green’ Partisans Off EIB.”  The story details efforts by some Republican legislators to force any EIB members with “known green agendas” to recuse themselves from deliberations on two proposals to cap carbon emissions that are currently before the EIB.

According to the story, the legislators want the Attorney General Gary King to investigate possible conflicts of interests that specific EIB members might have regarding the two proposals.

This is just the latest salvo in the epic battle over the makeup of the Environmental Improvement Board, an advisory board whose members are appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson.

Continue reading

Climate Change: On the Frontlines at the EIB

Robby Rodriguez

Climate control is too important to leave in the hands of the U.S. Congress…or in the hands of the highly-paid lobbyists who speak for the energy companies and huge corporations.

That’s why it’s so important now for states to take the lead – and New Mexico has emerged as one of the boldest, says social justice activist Robby Rodriguez in a new essay just published in High Country News.

Rodriguez, who is executive director of the Albuquerque-based SouthWest Organizing Project, says New Mexicans should be proud that SWOP, New Energy Economy and more than a dozen groups are currently petitioning to make New Mexico a leader in the nation when it comes to regulating greenhouse gases.

The groups are asking the state’s Environmental Protection Board to place a science-based cap on the amount on global warming emissions in the state to 25 percent below 1990 levels. This is the minimum action recommended by the global scientific community to mitigate the impact of global change.  If approved, New Mexico’s plan could be used as a national model for other states.

Rodriguez writes that he was moved when he heard faith leaders, doctors, scientists, advocates, renewable energy producers and more testify at a March 1 public hearing on the petition.

From the HCN piece:

Those who spoke in favor of the petition in front of the EIB represented lifelong residents of the Four Corners area in northwestern New Mexico—one of the most heavily polluted areas in the country–who spoke of noxious fumes and the devastating impacts of the oil, gas and coal industries on their health, land and animals.  Young people talked about their future.  A pregnant mother talked about her soon-to-be-born son.  Faith leaders, renewable energy producers, advocacy organizations, doctors, scientists and local government officials all came forward in favor of capping greenhouse emissions.  The room was packed—standing room only!

It was beautiful.

Then  Rodriguez spoke of the parade of corporate CEOs, lobbyists and even some tea partiers, all of whom spoke against the petition.

From the HCN essay:

And then came the parade of polluters.  PNM, the major electric utility company in New Mexico led the way as grand marshal.  They were followed by suits representing the energy, mining, oil, gas, coal, agribusiness and other manufacturing industries, and of course, their shareholders.  Also in the parade were the various chambers of commerce and of course the new kids on the block, the ‘teabaggers.’ They cited all the usual “if we do this the sky will fall” arguments.  They argued the matter should be decided by our state legislature or by the congress at the national level or at the international level—as though the long political process necessary to overcome the massive propaganda campaigns they wage is time we can afford. .  We’ve heard it all before.

It got ugly.

And that was just the beginning. The EIB will continue to hold hearings throughout the summer and is scheduled to rule on the petition sometime in the fall.

As this battle plays out, we at Clearly New Mexico hope New Mexico continues to stand firm on the front lines of the battle over climate control.