September 13, 2023

Groups say New Mexico is failing on its climate goals

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

A pumpjack is pictured near Aztec, NM.

Two recent reports find that New Mexico is failing on its climate goals under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Environmental Defense Fund and the Center for Biological Diversity issued the reports.

EDF analyzed emission projections through 2030 while developing its report. Meanwhile the Center for Biological Diversity’s report, which it calls a scorecard, primarily focuses on the governor and scores her efforts to address climate change.

New Mexico has a goal of reducing emissions by at least 26 percent below the 2005 levels by 2025 and by at least 50 percent compared to 2005 by 2050. But, the report claims, the state will not come close to meeting those goals. Instead, by 2025 New Mexico may experience a 1 percent increase in emissions or, if emissions are cut, it may be a 3 percent reduction. By 2030, those reductions could be 9 percent to 16 percent cuts in emissions compared to 2005 levels.

Furthermore, EDF says that current state policies are not enough to bring emissions down to the levels set in the executive order that Lujan Grisham issued in 2019. 

“The fact that New Mexico is falling far short of its climate goals should be a wake-up call to our elected leaders to act with urgency. New Mexico’s children are the most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change and our communities — especially people of color, women, and communities impacted by extractive industries — have long been on the frontlines of climate injustice overburdened by environmental and socioeconomic inequities,” Celerah Hewes, a national field manager for Moms Clean Air Force who lives in Albuquerque, said in a statement. “We need strong action now to curb climate-warming emissions to protect the health of our families and ensure access to clean air and water for generations to come.”

EDF provides several recommendations for the governor to help close those gaps. Those recommendations include increasing funding and capacity at state agencies like the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the New Mexico Environment Department and leveraging federal funding available through the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“New Mexico is falling short of achieving its climate targets, but the opportunity for putting in place policies to do so and for using those policies to drive creation of jobs, new investment in the state and just establishment of a healthier and safer future, reducing pollution now to reduce health impacts. Those opportunities have frankly never been better,” said Alex DeGolia, director of state legislative and regulatory affairs for EDF, during an interview with NM Political Report. 

But, at the same time, politics can be a challenge in a state like New Mexico where a large portion of the budget comes from fossil fuels. DeGolia said the policies and efforts to address climate change are important for the state’s future as the changing climate could lead to less water availability and hotter temperatures.

“Those goals that the governor and New Mexico more broadly established for itself are aligned with what the best available climate science says is necessary in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and really in terms of both near and long term climate impacts, the thing that’s most important is cutting climate pollution in line with those targets,” he said.

Because of that, EDF chose to look at what actions are being taken to reach those goals and what have the results of those actions been.

He said, from EDF’s perspective, the biggest challenge that New Mexico faces in reaching the goals is in state policy.

“The state does not have a comprehensive climate change policy in place that requires regulations capable of actually reducing emissions consistent with those goals,” he said.

The goals that New Mexico does have were set in place through an executive order. DeGolia said the state agencies like the New Mexico Environment Department do have the ability to undertake actions without legislation to help New Mexico meet those goals. He gave the example of the current efforts to implement clean cars rules.

At the same time, legislation could provide more durable policies that can’t be reversed when administrations change. 

“We think that new legislation that establishes a comprehensive climate program and requirement for additional regulations is incredibly important to actually get on track and to ensure that any climate policies put in place in the coming years are durable and are capable of requiring reductions toward 2030 and then ultimately toward eliminating emissions altogether by mid century.”

The most important policy, he said, would be to create “a firm enforceable limit on climate pollution across all sources in the state.”

That could be done through legislation establishing a requirement of reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and then allowing the New Mexico Environment Department to undertake a rulemaking that would detail how that will be achieved.

He said that it is also important to have policies that “prioritize advancing environmental justice and a just energy transition for New Mexico’s communities and for its energy workers.” 

New Mexico is one of 25 states and territories that have established climate goals.

DeGolia said New Mexico is not unique in falling short of its goals. He said a report released by EDF in July found that the 25 states and territories that have set emissions reductions targets are collectively on track to reduce emissions by between 29 percent and 37 percent by 2030. 

Center for Biological Diversity says governor is ‘on the verge of failure’

Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity’s report is a scorecard on the governor’s actions to address the climate crisis. The Center ranks her as “on the verge of failure,” stating that she has only taken one of five actions needed to mitigate climate change and criticizing her for promoting initiatives like hydrogen energy. The organization further criticized the governor for the increase in oil and gas production in New Mexico since she took office.

“Unfortunately, over the last five years of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s leadership, oil and gas production in New Mexico has skyrocketed,” the scorecard states. “The state’s oil production has more than doubled since the governor took office, and New Mexico is now the second-largest oil-producing and seventh-largest gas-producing state in the nation.”

The Center’s scorecard primarily focuses on the oil and gas sector.

The five actions that it graded her on include:

  • Working to prevent new and future oil and gas production and phasing down extraction
  • Developing and enforcing effective policies for reducing methane emissions from super polluters
  • Implementing buffer zones to protect people from oil and gas emissions 
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles
  • Taking actions to transition the state to clean, renewable energy and not relying on “false solutions” like carbon capture and hydrogen

The Center states that the governor has taken actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, but has not taken the four other actions needed in the face of climate change.

While New Mexico has implemented new measures aimed at curtailing emissions, including methane, from oil and gas production, the Center criticized these regulations for relying on self-reporting by operators. The scorecard alleges that the regulations are unenforced and haven’t resulted in decreasing the practice of venting and flaring. 

“Gov. Lujan Grisham can’t claim to be a climate leader while overseeing a massive expansion of oil and gas extraction in our state,” Gail Evans, an attorney at the Center, said in a press release. “Under her leadership, New Mexico’s oil and gas production has become a top threat to the world’s climate. With the clock ticking, the governor must use her authority to protect New Mexicans and the planet from climate devastation.”