Although it is uncertain when things may return to normal, the global pandemic has shown us how important it is to be thoughtful in our choices and think about the future we want to create together. Even as we fight back against COVID-19 we can begin the process of making New Mexico more prosperous, resilient and healthier. I believe we can grow our economy – but only if we take care of all our residents and lead in the clean energy transition.
An aspect of the just transition I’m talking about is zero-emissions transportation, which can lead to better health through improved air quality and help prevent the impacts from climate change.
As seen through an equity lens, zero-emission transportation is part of “transportation justice.” Transportation justice is the right of all people to affordable, accessible and clean transit opportunities. This includes clean and safe public transit systems, innovative ridesharing options for urban and rural communities, and electrified personal vehicles. Achieving transportation justice also means fundamentally reshaping how communities, neighborhoods and cities are planned. It means scaling back on car dependency while re-prioritizing safe, clean, publicly funded transit that can functionally and affordably transport New Mexicans from their homes to their workplaces be they offices, orchards or even oil fields.
The state is taking important initial steps forward by providing funding to zero-emission bus projects that will move New Mexico forward on the road to transportation electrification. The city of Albuquerque will add five electric buses to its transit fleet, and Santa Fe Public Schools will add an electric school bus. Both projects will serve as pilots to learn about the technology and to document how much money is saved on fuel and maintenance. Zero pollution from the buses is also safer and healthier for the passengers, including school kids.
New Mexico is also taking important steps to build a strong foundation to run our transportation system on clean electricity by investing over $2.6 million in building more than 100 new charging stations across 23 counties. The money for these projects, as well as the electric buses, comes from the Volkswagen Settlement – a multi-billion-dollar penalty for rigging vehicles to cheat pollution tests. Once built, electric-vehicle drivers will be able to travel from Las Cruces to Taos, or anywhere in the state, without worrying about where to “fill up.”
Unfortunately, the state also invested some of the Volkswagen money into outdated, inefficient and polluting technologies including compressed natural gas and propane. Going forward, this money should be used exclusively for zero-emission vehicle projects, like states including Colorado are doing.
Making investments in electric transportation is not just an alternative to hugging a tree, it is an investment in our state’s economic recovery. Designing and installing electric vehicle charging stations, as well as maintaining them, will support good-paying, high-skilled union jobs. Building and maintaining these stations requires construction workers, utility line workers, engineers and other jobs which will help to repower our economy as we emerge from the immediate crisis that we are in.
To further support clean air and economic recovery our state must adopt the Clean Cars program – rules that would require manufacturers make cleaner and zero-emission vehicles available for sale here. In addition, electric utility companies must bring forward bold plans to support the transition to clean transportation. Electric utilities can fuel New Mexico’s future transportation system. Under a 2019 law, New Mexico’s investor-owned utilities are required to be proposing transportation electrification programs by the end of this year. Rural utilities should get in on the action, too. And all utilities should think big.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic right now and it’s hard to imagine taking big bold steps, but we will beat this virus. And while our health professionals and scientists work on that, how about we continue to plan for a better, healthier and more resilient future for all New Mexicans – will you join me?