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NM leaders talk climate, public health

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Smoke covers the Sandias as hikers walk near the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center on Tuesday. Albuquerque has issued two air quality health alerts this week. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Rising temperatures and poor air quality threaten the health of New Mexicans, state leaders said in a webinar this week organized by Health Action New Mexico.

Kathy Kunkel, state Department of Health secretary, said her agency’s studies connect extreme heat to health impacts.

“Environmental issues are public health priorities,” Kunkel said.

State emergency room visits for illnesses such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion nearly doubled in 10 years, with 9.2 visits per 100,000 people in 2008 and 17.4 visits per 100,000 people in 2018, according to DOH data.

There’s “no doubt” that New Mexico is warming, said state climatologist Dave DuBois. The state has seen a temperature increase of 0.5 to 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit for each of the last several decades.

“We also see longer growing seasons because of the high temperatures,” DuBois said. “…We‘re seeing more allergens, more pollens.”

The group also spoke about health impacts of air pollution.

The American Lung Association gives several counties an “F” grade for ozone pollution: Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Eddy, San Juan and Sandoval.

Ozone is formed by pollutants common in wildfire smoke and emissions from vehicles and industrial sites. The gas can exacerbate respiratory issues.

Albuquerque issued two alerts this week for high ozone levels.

New Mexico regulatory agencies are crafting rules to reduce ozone and methane in oil and gas operations.

“It’s important that we get this right,” Kunkel said of the regulations. “We must reduce air pollution that disproportionately impacts the health of children, seniors and rural communities.”

Speaker of the state House of Representatives Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the Energy Transition Act will help combat climate change.

The 2019 law requires utilities to have carbon-free energy generation by 2045.

“We would love to become a net exporter of clean energy,” Egolf said. “That helps our sister states achieve their climate goals, and provides a tremendous economic benefit for our state, with quality jobs for New Mexicans that make it easier for folks to stay here after their education.”

Egolf said a “comprehensive climate package” is a priority for the next legislative session.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 

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