Environmental advocates say the ozone precursor pollutant rule developed by the New Mexico Environment Department should be strengthened, while supporters of the oil and natural gas industry say the draft rule is too restrictive and the costs of retrofitting equipment could lead to wells being plugged. Organizations on both sides had the opportunity to present arguments and answer questions during a two-week-long Environmental Improvement Board hearing that ended Friday. Ozone pollution is caused when volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen react in the presence of sunlight. This can be seen in the form of smog. Several New Mexico counties are pushing federal National Ambient Air Quality standards for ozone and, if the counties go into non-attainment status, they could lose access to federal funding for infrastructure projects such as roads.
Last week, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, asked the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) to establish regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. That board, whose members are appointed by the governor, is responsible for rules related to public health issues like air quality, food safety and hazardous waste. By a four-to-one vote, the EIB denied the petition Ruscavage-Barz brought on behalf of 28 New Mexico children and teens. But she’s hopeful that there’s room for a conversation with the New Mexico Environment Department, the agency that was moving forward with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the impacts of climate change just six years ago. Ruscavage-Barz said the board encouraged the group to work with the state agency and other stakeholders and come up with an enforceable plan.
Setting up a constitutional showdown with the Legislature, Gov. Susana Martinez has withdrawn most of her appointees awaiting confirmation in the state Senate but will keep the officials in their posts across New Mexico government. Aides to the governor accused lawmakers on Wednesday of moving too slowly in confirming her nominations, leaving more than 70 unconfirmed as the session enters its final weeks. But some senators suggested Martinez was attempting an end run around the confirmation process that would undercut the Legislature’s role as a check on the executive branch of government. “The governor cannot circumvent the Senate’s authority,” Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen told the chamber Wednesday afternoon after a clerk read aloud a letter from Martinez announcing the move. The unusual maneuver has turned a typically mundane administrative process into an unlikely flash point between the governor and Democratic legislators as debate over bigger issues, such as the budget and taxes, come to a head.
After a year of high-profile changes in Gov. Susana Martinez’s Cabinet, top officials from several of the most important departments in state government now await Senate confirmation hearings. But the secretaries of environment, finance and health are just of a few of the governor’s nearly 100 appointees on the agenda. With the long list, it is unclear how many appointees will even get a vote before the Senate adjourns March 18. New Mexico’s financial crisis will make confirmation hearings more difficult than usual. Staff members say the Senate Rules Committee only has enough money to conduct background checks on about half the appointees.