A spring and summer of record-breaking wildfires believed to be driven by pollution and subsequent climate change in New Mexico prompted environmental groups to call on lawmakers at both the state and federal level to act in Congress and in the upcoming state legislative session.
Carlsbad’s Citizens Caring for the Future joined other groups from throughout the state and U.S. in signing a letter to lawmakers which argues New Mexico must work to address its contributions to pollution as a national leader in fossil fuels, and the resulting environmental damage.
New Mexico’s 2023 Legislative Session was expected to begin next January, meaning lawmakers in the State House and Senate have about six months to develop legislation.
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The previous sessions saw numerous Democrat-led environmental bills introduced with mixed success, aiming to reduce air-polluting emissions from the oil and gas industry, develop stronger regulatory standards for vehicles and grow the state’s renewable energy sectors.
While bills supporting tax relief for users of renewable energy passed during the 30-day, budget-focused session, others, like the Clean Fuel Standard Act to require fuel producers in New Mexico reduce carbon emissions and the Clean Future Act to put into law benchmarks for reducing greenhouse gasses, did not.
Lawmakers also failed to pass legislation supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to promote hydrogen power in the state, a proposal contended to result in less-polluting energy production but criticized by opponents as providing another avenue for the use of fossil fuels.
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In response to the legislature’s struggles to enact laws that would address climate change, and the largest wildfires in the state’s history this year – the Calf Canyon burned about 341,735 acres since April – environmentalists last week penned letters to government leaders.
A letter signed by 35 environmental groups, both state and national, was sent to lawmakers July 7, arguing the already arid state is becoming hotter and dryer and conditions will worsen without government action.
“Wildfires are not ’caused’ by climate change. But their increased size, speed, and intensity are a result of climate change and land management impacts – changes in precipitation form and amount, loss of soil moisture and structure, drying plant material, increased tree infestation and disease, and perhaps stronger and more persistent winds, among other effects,” the letter read.
“The people of New Mexico are looking to you not only for leadership in addressing this moment, but in working to ensure that we’re taking proactive steps to head off more moments like these.”
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Similar letters were sent that day to New Mexico’s Democrat U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan, along with another appealing to the state’s Democrat U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernandez, Melanie Stansbury and Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell who represents New Mexico’s southern Second Congressional District that encompasses portions of the Permian Basin oilfields.
The Permian Basin is the U.S’s. most active oilfield, producing at least 5 million barrels of oil per day, almost half of the U.S.’s total daily output of crude of about 11 million barrels, per data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
While all that production could be impacting the environment in New Mexico, Herrell said it is also a primary economic driver – providing more than a third of the state’s revenue.
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She supported a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting the federal government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, giving a state’s elected officials power over those decisions.
“Out-of-control federal bureaucracy threatens the livelihoods of every American and today’s decision puts the ball in Congress’s court to address our energy needs through democratic legislation,” Herrell said when the decision was announced June 30.
A July 7 report from the Carlsbad Department of Development showed oil and gas in New Mexico contributed $5.3 billion in revenue to state and local governments in Fiscal Year 2021 which is from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.
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That’s the most ever recorded in New Mexico’s history, per the report, and Eddy County Manager Al Davis said policy should support further growth in the industry as an essential segment of the economy both locally and statewide.
“The business and industry activities occurring in Eddy County continue to be a key economic driver for not just southeast New Mexico, but for the entire State,” he said. “The business and industry activities that are occurring here provide extraordinary economic opportunity in our area, from quality, well-paying jobs to new business development.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.