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Editorial: Gov. should put mpg rule in reverse, get neighbors out of park

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would get real traction combating climate change, as well as ground-level ozone – which can aggravate conditions like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema – by ensuring the Clean Car Promise she signed with 23 other governors brings more states into the fold and provides a unified standard for vehicle emissions.

Instead, she is mandating vehicles sold in New Mexico average 52 miles per gallon by model year 2022 – three years away.

According to a Sept. 25 Journal story by reporter Theresa Davis, in response to the Trump administration rolling back Obama-era standards of 54 mpg by 2025 to 37 mpg by 2026, Lujan Grisham told a U.S. Climate Alliance panel in New York City that “it is environmentally and economically counterproductive to stall fuel economy standards.”

OK, but it doesn’t make sense to set fuel standards piecemeal, as the air we all breathe doesn’t acknowledge state boundaries.

And it is economically counterproductive to implement standards that are going to push vehicle dealerships and vehicle buyers across state lines. Colorado, which is in the Clean Car Promise alliance, has a more realistic emissions requirement of 36 mpg by 2025.

Guess where many New Mexicans will be headed for their next pickup truck purchase?

Meanwhile, one of the most high-profile players in the world of green vehicles, Tesla, can’t sell cars in New Mexico because its business model clashes with a state law that prohibits vehicle manufacturers from selling directly to consumers.

It’s not clear whether Lujan Grisham wants vehicles sold across a dealership to average out to a fuel rate of 52 mpg, or across a vehicle maker’s offerings, or across the state. Regardless, the move will certainly reduce choice for New Mexicans. Pickup trucks, for example, will be severely limited – this in a state with large swaths of agricultural area and large segments of the population who need to haul equipment and tools. It’s hard to imagine that landscaping crew showing up in a Prius.

Meanwhile, how are New Mexicans supposed to pay for these high-efficiency vehicles? A full quarter of our residents need government assistance for food. Soon they can only buy hybrids or electric cars? Those aren’t cheap. A 2019 Chevrolet Volt retails upward of $33,000.

While work on climate change and ozone reduction must move forward, details and implementation matter. So do economies of scale. Seventeen U.S. automakers have told President Trump they support an improved unified fuel economy standard – and they point out consistent national standards for vehicle emissions and fuel economy would help American-made cars compete in a global market.

This should be addressed at the federal level. If it is not, an alliance of state leaders like Lujan Grisham would do well to get the more recalcitrant states (Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah, to name a few) out of “park” and hammer out an emissions standard all can live with.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.