Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
A New Mexico climate change task force released its first report Thursday, citing progress that has been made to combat the “climate crisis” and recommendations for the state climate strategy.
Among other findings, the task force said New Mexico produced more than 66 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 – about 1% of the national total. The state is home to about 0.6% of the nation’s population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Overall, New Mexicans produce 31 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per person per year, the report found. The national average is 18 tons per person.
“It is not hyperbole to suggest the stakes are higher than perhaps ever before in human history,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in the introduction to the 28-page report, while adding that New Mexico would “step up” to the challenge.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, ordered Cabinet secretaries to head up the New Mexico Interagency Climate Change Task Force soon after taking office in January, while also ordering New Mexico to join a coalition of other states formed in 2017 after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
In its report released Thursday, the task force recommends that state agencies “pick up the pace of our work” to reach the emission targets set by the Energy Transition Act, a landmark renewable energy bill passed during this year’s 60-day legislative session.
New Mexico is already experiencing the effects of climate change, according to the report, which cites hotter and longer summers, more intense storms, more frequent droughts, and declining air and water quality.
“Even with current and planned policies to reduce our emissions, we will likely fall short of our goals without a broader market-based program to reduce carbon usage and emissions,” the report reads.
Meanwhile, the report’s release comes as New Mexico revenue has skyrocketed to record levels – an estimated $7.9 billion in the current budget year – due primarily to an ongoing oil production boom in the state’s southeast corner.
State lawmakers used the budgetary windfall during this year’s session to increase New Mexico teacher salaries, restore depleted cash reserves and appropriate nearly $400 million for highway construction and repairs statewide.
Lujan Grisham has faced criticism from some environmental advocacy groups for not doing more to address climate change, but recently said New Mexico is taking more decisive steps toward a renewable energy-based economy than many other states.
“I think for activists it’s pretty terrifying to see a state pretty quickly grow to be (one of the top oil-producing states) and I can completely respect that response,” Lujan Grisham told the Journal in a recent interview.
The climate change report released Thursday found that the oil and natural gas sector contributed the largest percentage of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions last year at 24%.
The transportation sector was second with 22% of the state’s emissions, followed by electricity at 18%, other industry at 18%, agriculture at 11% and the commercial and residential sector at 6%.
The report also cites reducing methane emissions from oil and gas through statewide regulations as the “highest priority” for New Mexico’s energy transition.
Methane makes up 31% of New Mexico’s emissions. Nationally, methane is 10% of emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged that methane contributes to global temperature increases.
More than 60% of the state’s methane emissions come from the oil and gas industry, while that sector contributes 31% of national methane emissions.
However, the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions declined by 5% from 2005 to 2018, according to the report. The decline was attributed to the 2017 closure of two units at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station.
The report references the state partnership with Santa Fe-based data company Descartes Labs to monitor methane leaks in real time using satellite imagery and weather patterns.
Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said New Mexico “should be proud” of the initiatives Lujan Grisham and her administration have introduced to address climate change.
Goldstein is the former Cabinet secretary of New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the former deputy secretary of the state’s environment department. The EDF is working to measure methane emissions in the Permian Basin to help create an accurate database of pollutant sources.
“What the next year holds will be critical,” Goldstein said. “Getting enforceable, nationally-leading methane pollution-reducing regulations on the books will help protect the lungs and the livelihood of New Mexicans who deserve clean air and a safe environment.”
While environmental groups praised the report, organizations like Power the Future took issue with the state’s initiatives.
“This is a love letter to radical environmentalists disguised as a government report,” said Larry Behrens, western states director for the group. “The ideas presented will kill energy jobs in our state while green corporations will reap the profits. In just one example, the authors of the report suggest New Mexicans spend more on adoption of all-electric vehicles while the Governor won’t give up her gas-guzzling SUV.”
The state has established a Methane Advisory Panel to discuss industry strategies. The panel is composed of petroleum engineers, scientists, environmental attorneys and individuals from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and Colorado State University.
A report from the Methane Advisory Panel is expected to be available for public comment by mid-December.
In addition, the report details the Lujan Grisham administration’s effort to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, in part by purchasing cleaner vehicles.
This year New Mexico will spend $1.5 million for electric vehicle charging stations in Santa Fe County and $1 million for electric vehicles for the state fleet.
New Mexico has invested $32 million in installing solar panels at 19 state offices in Santa Fe. The state wants to expand those energy efficiency projects to homes and businesses.
“We (also) need to prioritize transportation infrastructure that serves more than just cars, like public transit and bicycle-and-pedestrian-friendly streets,” the report reads.
The task force will release another progress report in September 2020. Information about the state’s climate strategy is available at https://openei.org/wiki/Climate_Action_Plan_(New_Mexico).