New Mexico Tea Party Governor Kills 3% Yearly Pollution Reduction Plan

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According to the New York Times, incoming Tea Party Governor Susana Martinez has just fired all of the Environmental Improvement Board members who in December passed pollution reduction legislation, and issued an executive order, to halt all pending regulations to “determine whether they hurt business” in New Mexico. The climate plan had been opposed by the energy interests that funded her candidacy.

In December, under termed-out Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board had adopted a greenhouse gas reduction plan that would gradually, at a rate of 3% a year, transition the state to clean energy, by requiring greenhouse gases be reduced 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.

Four Northeastern States have already embarked on similar annual pollution reduction plans, and have been meeting those goals, and California is about to implement its own.

New Mexico’s plan was adopted by the board by an overwhelming majority vote. Martinez halted it to determine if the plan “hurts business.”

Given that the fossil fuel industry sued for two years in court to stop the greenhouse gas reduction plan, it can be assumed that there will certainly be at least one aggrieved industry to claim that regulations “hurt business”.

Under her protection, this will enable big polluters in the state to overturn the regulations. Martinez, an outspoken climate denier candidate, received hundreds of thousands from oil and gas interests, according to the Times. But polluter industry efforts to overturn the ruling via their new Governor might not be that easy.

It was a small local non-profit environmental organization, New Energy Economy, that was instrumental in getting the plan passed into law, with local input and testimony to counter two years of legal obstruction by the fossil energy industry.

The emissions reduction plan would put New Mexico on a path to joining Massachusetts and California, which is just about to begin implementing its own climate plan, having shaken off similar polluter obstruction (with a Tea Party astroturfed ballot initiative: Prop 23) that failed.

The Northeastern RGGI states have for several years succeeded in reducing greenhouses gases with similar legislation that encourages clean energy and efficiency.

The plan was to begin in 2013, and require 3% reductions annually from 2010 levels starting in 2012. It would involve big polluters only, those electric power plants, petroleum and natural gas facilities in New Mexico that generate greenhouse gas pollution emissions exceeding 25,000 metric tons per year of carbon dioxide.

There was flexibility in how the reductions would be achieved. Owners could use drastic cuts in one faciltiy to count towards their overall cuts. So an owner of several power plants could, for example, replace one of several coal plants with a natural gas power plant (for a 60% GHG reduction), or with a (zero emissions) wind or solar farm. There were upper limits to the spending on new plants.

It had surprised to me that a small local environmental organization had been able to face down the fossil industry in court and get this petition passed into law, and in December I had contacted New Energy Economy to find their secret. They are not the NRDC, after all. It appears that local involvement in the court cases was instrumental.

Lilia Diaz told me in December “one of the reasons that we were successful here is because we had a lot of community support throughout the hearings, with people from very different walks of life testifying in support of a cap on carbon pollution”.

Asked about the prospect of a roll back after the election, one of the board members did say at the time that a simple edict from the governor would not be enough to kill the plan, and speculated that even if she reconstituted the board, it could take as long as a year to rescind the measures.

She has begun that process by firing the board members.

For the Martinez administration to succeed in rolling it back, by New Mexico law, this will take another public process, which must include at least one hearing and a chance for public comment to overturn the rules.

The New Energy Economy plan passed in December was very thorough, involving 200 hours of technical testimony and complex documents and public comments before reaching the decision.

Susan kraemer@Twitter

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