Editorial: NM right to accelerate toward cleaner new cars - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: NM right to accelerate toward cleaner new cars

When it comes to vehicle emissions, is it time for New Mexico to go California-style?

New Mexico regulators want to adopt California’s rules requiring more fuel-efficient vehicles and zero-emission vehicles. New standards wouldn’t apply immediately; they probably couldn’t go into effect before 2026 car models show up.

California’s standards are the strictest in the nation, but they’re starting to spread. More than a dozen other states already have adopted or are adopting the Golden State’s emissions playbook.

That may be because rules that may have seemed radical or groundbreaking (or just too San Francisco) several years ago now seem mainstream.

The climate impact of greenhouse gases like those produced by the internal combustion engine are becoming more obvious and accepted. And the manufacturers themselves are promoting electric cars and trucks as the future of their business, bragging in ads about even big trucks and industry icons like the Ford Mustang going emissions-free.

Another sign of the times is that in a Journal story this week about the New Mexico Environment Department’s plan to petition for approval of the California rules, there was no outrage from the head of the state group that represents nearly 100 vehicle dealerships.

Instead, Ken Ortiz, president of the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association, emphasized the need for an improved infrastructure with more vehicle charging stations around the state. He said the installation of more stations outside the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas should “go hand in hand” with the state clean-car initiative.

To be clear: The new standards wouldn’t impose any new emissions testing.

And they would apply only to new cars. Manufacturers’ new fleet deliveries to New Mexico dealers would have to meet a combined emissions standard, one that’s stricter than the existing federal standards, over a one-year period. Some vehicles in the fleet could surpass the standard, and some might release more pollutants than the target. From 7% to 10% of vehicles offered would have to be zero-emission.

The NMED says trucks and SUVs would still be available and the new standards actually would result in expanded vehicle choices, with more fuel-efficient options, that other clean-car states have.

Of course, New Mexicans who want a new car that doesn’t meet the standards could always go to another state to make the buy. But President Biden’s announcement Thursday that half of all vehicles sold by 2030 be zero emissions, though not binding, could help make car-shopping tourism the exception, not the rule.

The NMED and Albuquerque officials emphasize how the new standards can reduce health risks from, for example, ozone pollution, which reached unhealthy levels on 23 days from 2017 to 2019 in Bernalillo County.

In fact, the county was under an ozone warning Thursday, one of many in recent weeks.

NMED data shows the transportation category emitted about 16 million metric tons in 2018, 14% of state greenhouse gas emissions, the second-largest source after the oil and gas industry.

NMED plans to file a rule-making petition in December with the state Environmental Improvement Board and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board.

The state board, which recently rejected a clean-car plan submitted by environmental groups, should take up the petition with sympathetic eyes. And the local board should welcome getting the rest of the state in line with lower vehicle emissions, given Bernalillo County is the only one that requires inspections.

With a four- or five-year grace period before the stricter emissions standards become effective, it’s hard to argue NMED’s proposal is draconian. In fact, the proposed standards and how they would be instituted in New Mexico appear entirely reasonable.


This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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