This month, federal scientists published new data on what “normal” now means when it comes to New Mexico’s climate. The results come as no surprise: “normal” is anything but. Temperatures in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe region over the last 30 years were a full two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th-century average. That’s a major reason why more than 96% of the state is suffering from severe drought and why our fire seasons are starting earlier and getting worse.
However, we can still prevent the worst impacts of climate change. To get the situation under control, New Mexico and the world must quickly reduce pollution from burning oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels.
There are immediate actions Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham can and should take this year to drive progress. Near the top of the list should be adopting clean car standards. This established policy would limit climate-changing pollution from vehicle tailpipes in New Mexico and require auto manufacturers to deliver an increasing number of zero-emission electric vehicles to the state.
There are many compelling reasons to adopt clean car standards. First, transportation is New Mexico’s second-largest source of climate-changing pollution. Reaching the governor’s goal of reducing pollution 45% by 2030 will require bold action to ensure New Mexicans can get where they need to go in cleaner, more sustainable ways. By accelerating electric vehicle adoption, clean car standards can help put New Mexico’s growing supply of clean, renewable electricity to work powering cars and trucks as well as homes and businesses.
Second, clean car standards will improve our health. The American Lung Association just ranked Albuquerque as the 26th most-polluted city in the country for ground-level ozone – in part because of vehicle emissions. Reducing tailpipe pollution will help lower ozone levels and make the air near busy roadways less dangerous to breathe.
Third, clean car standards will save New Mexicans money. The standards will save gasoline, reducing fuel costs for those who choose to drive combustion vehicles. Further, driving on electricity is comparable to gasoline at $1 per gallon. And electric vehicles don’t need oil changes, so maintenance costs are much lower. Those savings add up to thousands of dollars over the life of each electric vehicle. Deploying electric vehicles at a pace sufficient to meet New Mexico’s climate goals will collectively save New Mexicans more than $20 billion through midcentury.
In September 2019, the governor publicly pledged to adopt clean car standards. According to the 2020 New Mexico Climate Strategy, the state plans to act this year, with the New Mexico Environment Department due to hold public meetings this spring, put forward a petition for rulemaking in July, and hold a hearing at the Environmental Improvement Board later in 2021.
However, spring is quickly coming to a close, and the state has not yet begun the formal process for adopting these rules.
Time is of the essence. The state needs to give automakers two years lead time to begin complying. Adopting the rule this year would mean more clean cars in New Mexico beginning in 2024. If we wait until January or later, that will add at least a year of unnecessary delay and slow our progress in fighting climate change.
As the governor wrote in 2020, “Our future depends on winning this fight.” Today’s climate will be the closest thing to normal our children will likely ever know. But we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change with strong action now. Adopting clean car standards should be New Mexico’s next step. Governor, let’s charge ahead.