February 21, 2019

Time to transition from the old to the new

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A solar array at Nellis Air Force Base. Wikicommons

The Fifty Fourth Legislature is being ushered in by forward-minded policy proposals supporting a “go big” approach to New Mexico economic development alongside environmental progress. It’s a policy session for the Legislature, and the best way to create good policy is to work together in ways that benefit voters and the state’s economy and environment.

A good example would be to address the closure of old-style coal plants that generate electricity. This can be done in a way that punishes utilities that built coal plants – then a sensible investment – more than 50 years ago, or instead in ways that allow them to close the plants and invest in environmentally and economically intelligent alternatives that recognize today’s priorities. Progressivism suffers when it relies on punishment. It succeeds when it is built on common sense, fairness, and inclusion.

It makes far more sense to close the plants in ways that move us toward cleaner electricity over time – including now.

In response to the coal plant challenge, environmentalists – now joined by PNM – have introduced SB 489 (The Energy Transition Act) that will enhance economic security for the San Juan region of New Mexico. SB 489 includes a “transition fund” to the county and language establishing a “displaced workers fund.” Additionally, environmentalists and industry are working to align—and enhance—transition efforts with proposed Renewable Portfolio Standards that direct investment in zero- and low-carbon electricity generation to protect our climate, create jobs in New Mexico, and cleanup our air and water.

Collaborators on SB 489 represent some of the fiercest defenders of New Mexico’s environment along with labor unions and community activists. SB 489 has been endorsed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in a press release touting “bold, comprehensive clean energy legislation, crafted over the course of a year with the assistance of community organizations and unions and advocates, that will significantly accelerate New Mexico’s transition to renewable and zero-carbon resources…”

Cooperation toward big economic and environmental goals is a good thing. Encouraging utilities to invest in modern generation and efficiency options is better than punishing them for then-logical decisions made in mid-20th century America. The Legislature and the stakeholders will do well to avoid the polarizing pitfalls of the short session last year, when (in a much shorter budget session) the objections of a single organization stopped efforts supported by environmental organizations, labor unions, local communities, and PNM. Now there’s more time to work out details and compromise and achieve a mutually beneficial solution to a daunting energy/environment challenge.

We should applaud people and interests who work toward compromise. SB 489 is an opportunity to achieve it.

Ned Farquhar was Governor Richardson’s senior advisor for energy and environment and deputy assistant Secretary of the Interior under President Obama.