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State-level resistance gearing up

President Donald Trump and the new Republican Congress have promised a sea change in the nation’s energy and environmental policies, but federal reforms may face a wave of state-level resistance, plus rough tides in the energy markets.

The energy industry expects a significant boost as the Trump administration backs away from rules and regulations on climate change. That includes an end to the Obama-era clean-power plan to lower carbon emissions from coal and other fossil fuels; faster approval for oil and gas leasing, drilling and infrastructure; and a broad rollback of federal regulations and red tape.

“Trump’s presidency marks an historic reversal from the previous focus on climate change and global warming,” said Daniel Fine, associate director of the Center for Energy Policy at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. “It represents a major defeat for climate change energy policies in the U.S.”

But federal efforts will meet stiff resistance nationally from opposition groups, plus ramped-up action at the state level to defend environmental policies.

Most states, including New Mexico, already have a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in place to promote renewable energy and many are strengthening them. California, New York and Oregon recently increased their RPS mandates to require that 50 percent of all electricity comes from renewable sources over the next 10 to 20 years. It’s 75 percent now in Vermont and 100 percent in Hawaii by 2045.

New Mexico’s RPS requires 20 percent of local electricity to come from renewables by 2020. Two Democratic legislators, Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and Rep. Nathan Small of Las Cruces, introduced a bill in this year’s session to increase that to 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040. Others are pushing new oil bills, including one to increase fines, and strengthen the state Oil Conservation Division’s ability to impose penalties for oil spills and other infractions.

Gov. Susana Martinez could block those initiatives. But next year’s elections could change things.

“We’re seeing a lot more effort at the state level now, buoyed by eight years of progress under President Obama,” said Rebecca Sobel of WildEarth Guardians.

Resistance could even emerge among mid-level administrators at federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management.

“There are a lot of Obama-era holdovers at the operational level,” Fine said. “Many could drag their feet to slow or postpone initiatives.”

Perhaps most important, market dynamics will likely push solar and wind energy forward, given the huge reduction in costs in recent years. Low natural gas prices could also stunt the revival of coal, said PNM Resources Chairman, President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn.

“Despite the rhetoric about reducing regulations, reviving the coal industry is unlikely,” Vincent-Collawn told the Albuquerque Economic Forum in February. “It’s not regulations pushing coal’s decline, it’s the market. Low natural gas prices are driving it.”

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