New Mexico Democrat leadership appeared ready to push an environmental agenda in the upcoming legislative session as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pledged the state would cut all carbon emissions from every sector by 2050.
She said this goal, first created via an executive order Lujan Grisham signed upon taking office in 2019, would be codified into law via legislation during the 30-day 2022 session.
Lujan Grisham’s remarks came during the New Mexico Climate Summit hosted by Speaker of the House Brian Egolf (D-47) at the State Capitol in Santa Fe, a frequent advocate for environmental policy and diversifying New Mexico’s economy away from its reliance on oil and gas.
Oil and gas revenue made up about a third of the state’s economy in recent years, while New Mexico rose in 2021 to second in the nation in oil production.
The governor’s emphasis on placing additional regulations on oil and gas since taking office was viewed by Republicans and industry allies as threatening the state’s main economic driver.
But during the summit, Lujan Grisham said it was essential New Mexico enact tougher environmental regulations to cut down on pollution and the state’s impact on climate change.
This year, new requirements for oil and gas operators to capture 98 percent of produced gas by 2026 were enacted at the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), while regulations to put stricter limits on ozone precursor emissions from fossil fuel operations were pending at the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).
The rulemakings were in response to Lujan Grisham’s executive order on climate, which also established the state’s Climate Change Task Force, comprised of cabinet secretaries of both NMED and EMNRD.
She also supported and signed into law the Energy Transition Act during the 2019 Legislative session, which required the state have 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045 and provided funding to projects that could increase sources of energy alternative to fossil fuels.
Clean-fuel standards for vehicles and legislation to increase New Mexico’s research and development of hydrogen power were also slated to be introduced during the upcoming session, Lujan Grisham said.
“We are, in fact, leading the country in a number of environmental strategies, policies and statutory frameworks that are reducing our emissions and increasing our reliance on renewable energy,” Lujan Grisham said.
“I think we should codify that work in this next legislative session. If you don’t have that framework in statute, it’s too easy to not work as diligently.”
Through the state’s shift away from fossil fuels, Lujan Grisham said oil and gas communities – such as Carlsbad and other cities in the southeastern Permian Basin along with Farmington and the San Juan Basin to the northwest – must not be left behind.
“We recognized there is an equity component. When you do this work you recognize there are shifts in the employment opportunities in a non-adjusted energy world,” Lujan Grisham said. “We want to make sure the counties that are most affected, there is money that will go into these counties that are the most at-risk.”
New Mexico’s Republican leaders criticized the Democrat governor’s promise to cut all carbon emissions and require such efforts by law.
GOP leaders said such a move would mean removing $2.6 billion from the state’s budget and could disrupt New Mexico’s economy and the nation’s energy supply.
House Minority Leader Jim Townsend (R-54), who represents parts of Eddy County in the Permian Basin region, said the state’s finances were already imperiled after multiple “economic shutdowns” enacted by the governor during the COVID-19 pandemic, referring the state’s emergency orders to limit public gatherings and non-essential business activities to slow the spread of the virus.
Disrupting oil and gas in New Mexico would only further deepen the economic damage, Townsend said.
“Governor Lujan Grisham and the political elite in Santa Fe should be focused on rebuilding the economy that was destroyed with their multiple economic shutdowns, instead they are slashing state revenue to pacify their donors,” he said.
“They are screaming that the sky is falling, and they are right – New Mexico is falling apart under progressive control.”
House Republican Whip Rod Montoya (R-1), whose district is located in the San Juan Basin region, said the Democrat administration’s agenda could leave “hundreds” of Navajo families in the Four Corners region out of work and cause energy rates to increase.
“Speaker Egolf and Governor Lujan Grisham have recently ensured that hundreds of Navajo families are losing their income, while at the same time raising energy rates on working families all over New Mexico,” he said. “It’s fair to say that Santa Fe political bosses have sold out New Mexico to out-of-state special interests.”
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) argued that without action on climate change as outlined by Lujan Grisham and others during the summit, the state and nation could face long-term economic damage associated with extreme weather events and dramatic financial shifts in the commodity-based oil and gas industry.
“These climate impacts will only continue to worsen and be more costly unless we take significant climate action at the local, national, and global levels right now,” Heinrich said during his remarks. “We all need to take steps to support new transmission projects in order to fully leverage New Mexico’s amazing wind and solar potential.
“State leaders need to continue paving the way for the energy transition by identifying new ways to diversify our economy and state revenues.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.