Governor Martinez Likely to Kill New Mexico’s Cap-and-Trade Scheme

Published November 29, 2010

A New Mexico environmental board whose members were personally selected by outgoing Gov. Bill Richardson (D) has voted to implement a cap-and-trade scheme to restrict greenhouse gas emissions in the state—but newly elected Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) is likely to scuttle the scheme.

During her campaign, Martinez pledged to undo plans to implement the New Mexico-only cap-and-trade program enthusiastically promoted by Democratic predecessor Richardson.

Martinez, who has expressed doubts about alarmist global warming predictions, was elected by a convincing margin, defeating Diane Denish (D) 54 percent to 46 percent.

Board Acts on Election Day
On the day Martinez was swept into office, the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB), a commission whose members were chosen by Richardson, voted 4 to 3 to approve far-reaching statewide global-warming regulations.

Under the scheme, some 63 facilities, mostly coal-powered power plants and oil and gas operations, which emit more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, are required to start reducing emissions by 2 percent per year below 2010 levels, beginning in 2012.

EIB’s move cleared the way for New Mexico to join the Western Climate Initiative, a consortium of seven Western states and four Canadian provinces created to reduce carbon emissions through a regional cap-and-trade system.

Richardson, who saw the statewide greenhouse gas program as his environmental legacy, had been working on the scheme since 2005. Along with local environmental activists and the renewable energy industry, he declared himself eager to see New Mexico become the first state in the nation to enact a cap-and-trade program.

But the death of nationwide cap-and-trade legislation in Congress, coupled with the deepening recession and fears of soaring energy prices, undermined public support for Richardson’s initiative. And with the election of Martinez, the whole edifice could collapse. 

Martinez Has Options
Martinez has several options open to her. She could ask the state legislature, which has already rejected a cap-and-trade bill, to determine the EIB lacks the authority to impose the scheme. Lawmakers could then vote to defund enforcement of the initiative.

She also could demand the resignation of EIB members and, like Richardson before her, appoint members of her own liking. This would start the whole process, including public comment and hearings, all over again.

In addition to what the governor may do, opponents are launching lawsuits against the scheme, charging, among other things, that EIB members had conflicts of interest and lacked authority to mandate such a far-reaching plan.

“I have been personally assured by members of the legislature and by Governor-elect Martinez that the New Mexico-only cap-and-trade scheme will never be enacted, though legal experts disagree over how this will happen,” said Marita Noon, executive director of the New Mexico-based Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy.

“Legal challenges are already underway, and we will use every arrow in our quiver to stop this job-killing scheme,” Noon added. “At a time when the rest of the country is abandoning cap-and-trade, some New Mexico officials are acting as if nothing has happened.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.