Monday, March 30, 2009
Officials Forge Ahead on Emissions
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
State officials plan to push forward with efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico, despite their failure to get a bill passed in the recently completed session.
The legislation was needed for the state's participation in the Western Climate Initiative, a regional greenhouse reduction coalition.
The difficulty in passing legislation here is mirrored in other states. Efforts in Montana, Arizona, Utah and Washington, which are also part of the Western Climate Initiative, have run into delays, raising questions about the necessity of state-by-state efforts to get legislation passed.
"They're not without difficulty," Salt Lake City attorney Jim Holtkamp said of the state-by-state efforts.
California and Oregon, the other two states in the WCI, appear more likely to move forward, Holtkamp said.
The states, along with four Canadian provinces, hope to band together in a regional cap-and-trade system that would set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming. It would allow regional trading of emissions credits as a way of creating a market to efficiently reduce emissions.
To achieve that goal, each state had to pass its own state-level implementation laws, which is where the difficulty has come in.
The New Mexico effort has faltered because of fears about potential costs, and because opponents say a federal system of greenhouse gas regulations is preferable to individual state efforts.
"There's a wait-and-see attitude about what's going to happen at the national level," said Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation, a New Mexico organization that opposes the Western Climate Initiative. It argues that cap and trade would be costly for New Mexicans, driving up the cost of energy.
Benjamin Rodefer, the state representative who led the unsuccessful effort to win passage for greenhouse gas controls, called such concerns "fearmongering," saying the types of renewable energy needed to comply with greenhouse reduction efforts, such as wind and solar power, are rapidly becoming economically competitive.
Rodefer, a Democrat from Corrales, said it became clear to him during the legislative session that the bill's chances were "slim and none, and slim just left town." Rodefer's bill never got out of a House committee.
Chief among his opposition were the state's largest utility, PNM, and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. Both argued that the Western Climate Initiative's chief reason for existence — a failure of national-level greenhouse reduction policy — was no longer an issue with the election of Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress apparently committed to action on a national level.
"That argument doesn't exist any more," oil and gas association vice president Deborah Seligman in a recent interview.
Advocates of state action say uncertainty over the possibility of federal action makes a state-level response of continued importance.
Continued opposition from those who deny climate change science, as well as a political feeding frenzy from those "insisting on big federal handouts" in any federal climate legislation, "could make federal climate protection slow or ineffective," said Ned Farquhar, a New Mexico-based representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Until there's strong federal legislation in place, state and regional action remains critical," Farquhar said.
In the absence of state legislation, New Mexico officials will continue to try to work with other Western Climate Initiative members to flesh out details of the cap-and-trade system they still hope to pursue, said Sarah Cottrell, Gov. Bill Richardson's energy and environment adviser.
The state will also look at other steps that can be taken administratively, without the need for legislation, Cottrell said.
One possibility is regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by the state's Environmental Improvement Board, which already has legal authority over air pollutants. The nonprofit New Energy Economy earlier this year filed a petition with the board asking it to regulate emissions.
John Fogarty, the group's executive director, said legislators "missed a huge opportunity" by not passing cap-and-trade legislation, but that the alternative of having the Environmental Improvement Board regulate emissions under existing law will go forward.