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Saturday, August 21, 2010
Emissions Hearings Grind On
By Michael Hartranft
Journal Staff Writer
The state Environmental Improvement Board and its hearing officer called it a week Friday after five long days of hearing testimony on the New Energy Economy's controversial proposal to cap greenhouse gases in New Mexico — but it's far from over.
Hearing officer Felicia Orth and the board, which still has to hear from witnesses for groups that oppose the NEE plan, had not set a date by press time to reconvene the hearing, which extended past midnight Wednesday and Thursday.
The NEE petitioned the board in late 2008 to adopt regulations to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions to combat global climate change. The program would be phased in, initially applying to gas and oil industry and electric generation sources that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. They would have to reduce emissions by 3 percent a year from 2010 levels, starting in 2012.
The architect of the proposed regulation, Steve Michel, was on the witness stand for 17 hours over several days. There was also testimony supporting the petition by climate change experts and Native American activist and environmentalist Winona LaDuke.
Opponents, including oil and gas industry groups and electric utilities, were only able to fit in one witness this week, William Wehrum, a lawyer who once worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. Called by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, he testified Thursday that the NEE cap is unnecessary because of pending federal regulations to address climate change. He said it would force companies to comply with overlapping and conflicting measures.
A witness for the NEE-supporter Western Resource Advocates, Richard Sprott, former head of the Utah Division of Air Quality, on Friday disputed that the measure is unnecessary and praised it as a simple straightforward rule.
The NEE says it would support a national measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but Congress has been slow to act. Criticized that a New Mexico measure alone would have little effect on the problem, NEE executive director John Fogarty seized on Wehrum's admission that states could influence the federal government to act.
"I think with the failure of federal action on climate change, it is going to be incumbent on states to lead, and having an opposition witness notice that, that's pretty important," he said in an interview.