New Mexico Considers Greenhouse Gas Restrictions

Published May 31, 2016

A scheme to mandate a reduction of New Mexico’s greenhouse-gas emissions is being debated in a Santa Fe hearing room, with the state’s economic future at stake.

In December 2008, two green groups—New Energy Economy and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center—filed a petition with the state’s Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) to impose limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. The five-page petition targets coal and natural gas power plants and oil and gas facilities (including refineries, processing and treatment plants, and compressor stations) that emit over 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.

Under the plan, these facilities would have to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels. The program would get underway in 2012 and would remain in force until either the state or the federal government adopted a CO2 emissions-reduction scheme.

The hearings before the EIB began in August and are expected to continue intermittently into October. They feature expert witnesses from both sides, who are subject to cross-examinations by their opponents.

State in the Crosshairs
“It is imperative that New Mexico step forward and begin to regulate greenhouse gases,” testified Steve Michel, chief counsel for Western Resources Advocates’ energy program, on behalf of the petitioners. “Frankly, we must all act as fast as we can, as significantly as we can, everywhere we can, if we have any hope of solving this problem.”

EIB also held hearings in the eastern New Mexico city of Clovis, allowing local citizens to express their opinion on the proposed rules. Most of the citizens speaking up at the Clovis hearings opposed greenhouse gas restrictions.

“If man-made climate change actually exists, it is a global issue, not a local one,” said local farmer Thom Moore.

Moore worried that greenhouse restrictions will cause fuel and fertilizer prices to skyrocket, which will further damage an already struggling economy.

“I ask you to remember good intentions are only good for paving roads,” said Moore.

Circumventing the Legislature
The controversy in New Mexico was triggered in 2005 when Gov. Bill Richardson (D) called for the state to lower its greenhouse-gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2012, 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, and 75 percent below 2000 levels by 2050. With Congress refusing to impose a national cap-and-trade system, environmental activist groups are turning up the pressure on New Mexico to act on its own.  

State Sen. Clint Harden (R-Clovis) spoke up at the Clovis hearings, saying the state legislature had rejected greenhouse gas restrictions and EIB should not seek to circumvent the legislature’s decision.

‘A No-Win Policy’
“The underlying premise for going ahead with what is obviously a no-win policy for the state is that, by implementing the regulations, New Mexico will be setting an example for other jurisdictions in the United States and around the world to follow. But New Mexico accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions,” said Bill Balgord, a Ph.D. geochemist and president of Environment & Resources Technologies, Inc., a Wisconsin-based consulting firm. 

“And does anyone seriously think that India and China will be paying attention to anything the state does?” Balgord said.

Balgord submitted expert testimony to the EIB on behalf of the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties for Stable Economic Growth, a group opposing the petition 

‘Deeply Painful Economic Impact’
China emits more carbon dioxide emissions each year than any other nation on earth, and its emissions have been rising by approximately 10 percent per year. U.S. emissions, by contrast, have been declining since the year 2000. Even if the United States completely eliminated all of its greenhouse gas emissions today, the growth in Chinese emissions alone would negate the elimination of U.S. emissions within a decade.

India ranks third in greenhouse gas emissions, and its emissions are also rapidly increasing.

“Any greenhouse gas reductions by New Mexico, or even the United States as a whole, will have little if any impact on global greenhouse gas emissions and are absolutely pointless,” said Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute.

“The only significant impact will be a deeply painful economic impact on New Mexican energy consumers,” said Lehr.

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