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NM to join 18 states in climate change coalition

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered New Mexico to join a national coalition of states seeking to combat the effects of climate change, as part of a far-reaching plan to shift the state toward a renewable energy economy.

At a news conference in the state Capitol, the Democratic governor described the order as a “game-changer” that outlines broad, state-level initiatives to make up for a lack of federal action on climate change.

“We want to make sure we are doing something irrespective of failed policies and a lack of science going on at the federal level today,” Lujan Grisham told a crowd that included environmental advocates and schoolchildren.

The executive order calls for New Mexico to join 18 other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance. The coalition, formed in 2017 after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, commits member states to implement policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Lujan Grisham specifically called for New Mexico to cut its emissions by 45 percent below 2005 levels over the next 12 years.

To achieve that, the governor directed two Cabinet secretaries – Environment Secretary-designate James Kenney and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary-designate Sarah Cottrell Propst – to head a new climate change task force to develop a state strategy with initial recommendations by September. The task force will include representatives from all state agencies, each of which must assess the impacts of climate change on their own programs and operations and devise mitigation measures.

Under the governor’s order, the task force will evaluate potential policies and regulations, such as:

• A market-based program that sets statewide emission limits.

• New emissions standards for light-duty vehicles sold in New Mexico.

• Updated building codes.

• Creation of transmission lines and infrastructure to get renewable energy from clean power plants to market.

The governor also ordered Kenney and Propst to help push legislation to increase New Mexico’s renewable-energy portfolio and energy-efficiency standards for electric utilities. The governor did not cite specific targets, but in her inaugural speech, and in her first address to the Legislature this month, Lujan Grisham called for new mandates that would require public utilities to derive at least 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and possibly 80 percent by 2040.

The order also directed Kenney and Propst to jointly develop statewide regulations to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations, something Lujan Grisham promised in her election campaign. That would help compensate for the Trump administration’s reversal of federal methane regulations.

“Federal rollbacks of climate protections, waste prevention, and clean air rules have made it imperative for New Mexico to act to protect our citizens and our economy from the damages of climate impacts,” said the order.

It added that New Mexico is wasting an estimated $244 million a year through venting, flaring and leaking of methane in oil and gas operations.

Environmental organizations praised Lujan Grisham’s action as a welcome departure from the policies of former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

“The new governor has set a tremendous, aggressive goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030, with a task force to come up with the rules, regulations and legislation to get us there,” said Jon Goldstein, regulatory and legislative affairs director for the Environmental Defense Fund.

During Tuesday’s news conference, Lujan Grisham also said the Martinez administration did not enforce some of the laws and regulatory requirements that are already in place. Lujan Grisham said that would change under her watch.

“This is an administration that is going to make sure that we are robustly enforcing the current environmental rules that we have,” Lujan Grisham said.

Still, she said, the state will maintain an “all-of-the-above approach” to energy issues, adding that her administration plans to work with the oil and natural gas industry as it enacts new policies.

“Everything doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive,” she said, after acknowledging that the ongoing oil boom in southeastern New Mexico has generated an unprecedented state budget surplus.

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn welcomed Lujan Grisham’s emphasis on collaboration.

“We stand ready to partner with the governor on reducing methane and greenhouse gas emissions,” Flynn said. “She made clear she wants to bring people together to address those goals, and that’s the best way to approach problems.”

Still, Flynn cautioned that forthcoming policies should be flexible and realistic.

“The devil’s in the details,” Flynn said. “We want to make sure there’s a clear understanding of our operations and that policy goals are realistic and regulations reasonable so we can work with them. We need to set goals that are achievable.”

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