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Methane regs key to saving outdoor recreation

To keep New Mexico’s air clean and protect the outdoor recreation businesses that are core to the New Mexican economy, we need strong rules to reduce air and climate pollution. As we all dig out of the current economic crisis, it’s more important now than ever to maintain New Mexico’s iconic outdoor brand and continue to grow clean jobs in our outdoor recreation industry.

As you may already know, New Mexico has a methane waste and oil and gas air pollution problem. Methane is a powerful climate change pollutant responsible for 25% of the warming we experience today, and New Mexico is a primary source of our nation’s methane pollution. While we work to promote our unique cultural heritage along with our climbing, hiking, biking, fishing, skiing and rafting – along with many other outstanding outdoor activities – New Mexico also is increasingly known as the nation’s leading methane hot spot.

Here are the facts. You might have seen them before, but we believe they’re worth repeating. In 2014, NASA discovered a methane cloud the size of Delaware over the Four Corners region, the highest concentration of methane in the United States. A recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund found methane escapes from New Mexico facilities in the Permian Basin at a rate three times higher than the national average. Our state releases 1 million metric tons of methane each year, with the same short-term impact on the climate as 22 coal-fired power plants or 28 million automobiles. Already we’re experiencing a longer, more intense wildfire season, a decreased snowpack and life-threatening heat waves.

Luckily the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) is in the process of finalizing a waste-reduction rule that would end the wasteful practice of routine venting and flaring in New Mexico. It requires producers to flare rather than vent except when necessary for health and safety. It requires oil and gas companies to capture 98% of methane emissions by 2026. And it strengthens state reporting and public notice requirements to improve transparency and ensure accountability of oil and gas operations. This rule would truly be nationally leading and in line with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s goals of strong action to reduce waste and pollution.

Unfortunately, as New Mexicans and owners of outdoor businesses, we must urge the New Mexico Environment Department to follow suit and make improvements to their draft air pollution rules. This is critically important since nearly 70% of oil and gas methane pollution in New Mexico occurs through leaks regulated by NMED. The agency must therefore adopt a rule that holds polluters accountable and cuts emissions across the oil and gas supply chain. NMED’s draft rule fails to protect public health and our climate by exempting the vast majority of wells across the state from regulation, oversight and basic leak detection and repair requirements.

According to Axie Navas, the Director of New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division, outdoor recreation is a “powerhouse” that provides more than $2 billion in state gross domestic product. Outdoor industry jobs also employ up to 35,000 people in our state. In other words, protecting our natural resources is simply good business. If we don’t do something about the quality of our air, future generations of New Mexicans won’t be able to climb our cliffs, hike in our deserts, ski in our mountains or paddle down our rivers. Without places to recreate, our businesses will cease to exist.

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