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Plan divides N.M. delegation

Democrats hail Obama initiative, Pearce sees job losses

WASHINGTON – New Mexico’s congressional Democrats, concerned about the effects of high temperatures and drought in the West, cheered President Obama’s call to slash power plant emissions and curb climate change on Tuesday, while the delegation’s only Republican criticized the plan as a new “energy tax.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who attended the president’s speech at Georgetown University, told the Journal that climate change “is scientifically no longer in dispute” and that America must heed the president’s call for the Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down on emissions from coal-fired power plants. Heinrich disputed assertions that such new rules would hurt the economy or result in higher electricity rates for consumers.

“There’s not much that you can do with coal that you can’t do cleaner and just as cheap with natural gas,” Heinrich said. “We’ve got to recognize that we’ll have to move to cleaner fuels. The Stone Age didn’t end because people ran out of stone.”

Heinrich said natural gas, which New Mexico produces in vast quantities, is “completely competitive with coal.”

“Every time you’ve seen us grapple with a major pollution challenge … you always hear the same rhetoric that it’s going to drive up costs and kills jobs, but we innovate, and that’s what we do best, and in the end it holds down costs and creates new jobs that we didn’t even think about before,” Heinrich said.

Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., disagreed strongly, calling the president’s strategy a “heavy-handed, job-killing approach.”

“As Americans face continued unemployment, high energy prices, and one of the slowest recoveries in history, the president is using the EPA to unilaterally implement even more regulations, challenges, and roadblocks to job growth in America,” Pearce said. “The president’s advisors have publicly declared a ‘war on coal’ – the No. 1 source of electricity in this country. The European Union imposed a job-destroying cap-and-trade scheme that hiked energy prices and made the continent uncompetitive. Last month, the EU effectively killed the program because of its economic impact. The president’s attempts to force a similar policy on us will not create good middle-class jobs.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said that New Mexico and the rest of the arid West are at the greatest risk from climate change, and that the president’s plan makes good sense.

“Climate change is real, and so are its costs, and the costs aren’t just monetary,” Udall said. “This is a direct challenge on our very way of life. No one can put a price on that. I hope Congress will hear his call – and mine – and act to address this great challenge.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján also said New Mexico is at risk from higher temperatures and suggested clean energy innovations will create jobs.

“Global climate change is contributing to severe drought conditions, more intense fire seasons and drier and hotter summers – all of which are being felt in New Mexico,” he said. “Addressing climate change is not only important for our environment, but it is also important for our economy.”

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said America has a responsibility to help mitigate climate change.

“We have an obligation to act on behalf of future generations of New Mexicans and Americans to reduce our carbon footprint and lay the foundation for a cleaner energy future,” she said.