January 30, 2019

Governor adds New Mexico to climate pact states

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Photo Credit: blake.thornberry cc

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed up New Mexico to support the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement on Tuesday.

In joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, Lujan Grisham is aligning New Mexico with other states working toward the accord’s goals after President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the international agreement in 2017.

Signing an executive order at the state Capitol, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

“I will join 19 other governors who are clear about making sure we do something about climate change irrespective of the failed policies and lack of science that is going on in our federal government today,” Lujan Grisham said.

The order is a start, cheered by environmental groups as affirming a pivot from the policies of her predecessor, former Gov. Susana Martinez. But it is just that — a start.

Even Lujan Grisham stressed that a highly anticipated policy on curbing methane emissions is still in its early stages.

So, while signaling a very different approach to environmental issues than her predecessor, Lujan Grisham’s executive order also illustrates the scope of the work ahead after two terms of an administration that she said “was not enforcing current law or regulatory requirements.”

Moreover, the order comes as New Mexico’s fortunes remain closely tied to oil and the state rides a boom in the Permian Basin that lawmakers are relying upon to increase funding for education as well as a long list of other priorities.

Lujan Grisham referred to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned limiting carbon dioxide emissions would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

But she signaled the oil and gas industry is open to working on new policies.

“The oil and gas industry is clear where we’re headed. They have a willingness to sit down and talk to us,” she told reporters in a news conference at the Capitol.

Part of Lujan Grisham’s order directs her administration to work on a policy that will reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production. The order also calls on government officials to help craft laws that would raise the amount of electric power public utilities are required to get from renewable sources.

The order launches a Climate Change Task Force that will weigh policies such as creating a market-based program that sets emission limits to reduce greenhouse gas pollution across the state. The task force also will consider updating green building codes and vehicle emission standards, plus include ways the state government can prepare for the effects of climate change.

It will put together a New Mexico Climate Strategy with recommendations by Sept. 15.

In several ways, the executive order picks up on planning former Gov. Bill Richardson launched during his administration but which mostly went dormant during the Martinez years.

“Gov. Lujan Grisham is coming out the gate with meaningful action to save our kids,” said David Coss, chair of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. “She is backing serious safeguards to reduce not just carbon pollution but also methane, which should be heating our homes, not leaking and flaring from oil and gas wells.”

Some in the oil and gas industry said they were encouraged by Lujan Grisham’s statements that it will have a voice in developing new policies.

“It’s encouraging to see the governor is wanting to partner with industry; with organizations, producers and New Mexicans from all walks of life,” said Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. “We agree we should reduce methane emissions and we agree we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The tough part likely will be in the details.

The future of communities that have been built around oil, gas and coal, however, looms over the legislative session.

Lobbyists are locked in intense negotiations over legislation about the future of a power plant in the Four Corners. And some Republican lawmakers have argued the state should not take steps that might dampen an oil boom in the Southeastern part of New Mexico that is buoying the government’s finances.

Others argue this only adds to the urgency to reduce the state’s reliance on oil and gas.

“We have to be able to keep our economy strong and play the long game,” said Aztec Mayor Victor Snover, who attended the governor’s signing ceremony at the Capitol. “… The transition has already begun.”