New Mexico’s About-Face on GHGs Not Expected to Hinder Regional Action

Mass firings, a controversial 90-day rule freeze, and appointment of a climate skeptic have made the new GOP governor a lightning rod of controversy

New Mexico capitol

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New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s swift actions to stall progress on greenhouse gas regulations she inherited from her predecessor will likely hinder the state’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative’s (WCI) cap-and-trade program, environmental authorities said, although it will not sideline the regional initiative itself.

Bruce Frederick, a staff attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), said that he expects the newly elected Republican governor to repeal a key November ruling by the state’s Environmental Improvement Board (EIB). It permits New Mexico to exchange carbon allowances with the seven other U.S. states and four Canadian provinces participating in the California-driven emissions trading program.

Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the nonprofit New Energy Economy (NEE) in New Mexico, said that “it is certainly on (the governor’s) agenda” to withdraw the state from the WCI emissions plan.

The press office for Gov. Martinez did not respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The market-based WCI aims to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 by capping CO2 emissions and using tradable permits as incentives for clean energy development. The cap-and-trade program is not mandatory for participating jurisdictions: Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, plus British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Fourteen other jurisdictions in the United States, Canada and Mexico have observer status.

Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat, was one of the initial supporters of the WCI when it formed in 2006, and he praised the unveiling of the regional cap-and-trade draft design two years later.

“We realize, here in the West, that we cannot wait for the federal government to get off its hands, so we will have to serve as a model for the rest of the country and world,” he said in a 2008 statement to the press.

Gov. Martinez, however, promised during her 2010 campaign to abandon the cap-and-trade initiative, as well as a state-only emissions cap approved by the EIB in December. She has argued that the “cap and tax” regulations, as she calls them, discourage economic development in New Mexico and force businesses to seek less restrictive climates in other states.

Within days of her Jan. 1 inauguration, the governor also fired the seven-members of the EIB for approving the regional and statewide “anti-business” measures. She then placed a 90-day freeze on all rules – including those approved by the EIB – so that a new business task force can review the state’s regulatory environment. Later, she announced Harrison Schmitt, a former astronaut and fellow climate change skeptic, would be her choice to head the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

“Unfortunately, the majority of EIB members have made it clear that they are more interested in advancing political ideology than implementing common-sense policies that balance economic growth with responsible stewardship,” Gov. Martinez said in a Jan. 4 press release announcing the dismissals.

Patrick Cummins, a WCI project manager, said that the initiative has not had any direct contact with Gov. Martinez’s administration on whether or not New Mexico will remain in the coalition.

New Mexico Environmental Law Center is accusing Gov. Martinez of illegally canceling the planned publication in the state register of the statewide greenhouse gas cap regulation. Without publication, the state rule cannot go into effect. It would require large stationary sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels, starting in 2013. The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear the case on Jan. 26.

Although the non-profit New Energy Economy petitioned the EIB with its statewide emissions cap program a year and a half before the WCI plan was introduced, the latter “leap-frogged” NEE’s plan in time to be published last year. The state plan has since been called a backup to the regional initiative.

NEE’s Nanasi said the governor’s sweeping actions have a positive side for officials backing the greenhouse gas caps.

“She has been a lightening rod, and I think that the Democrats have shored up their solidarity more than they have in the past because her stances have been so ideologically driven and so reactionary. She has taken a broad brush stroke to try and eliminate all things” environmental, she said.

Nanasi also pointed to findings by the state’s Climate Change Advisory Group that estimate that New Mexico’s economy would show net economic growth of $630 million by 2020 under the greenhouse gas regulations thanks to energy efficiency gains, job creation in new green industries and savings from electricity production. The WCI says its plan can realize a cost savings of around $100 billion by 2020 and without negatively impacting the regional economy.

“Now there is actually some room to finally discuss the facts behind all the rhetoric,” she said.

WCI’s Cummins said that if New Mexico did exit the cap-and-trade plan, it would not cripple progress within the regional initiative. He said that California and three Canadian provinces are on track to start the program as scheduled in January 2012 and comprise about two-thirds of emissions in the WCI jurisdiction.

“New Mexico is relatively small in terms of its overall emissions, so while it is certainly beneficial to have them participate in the market, it does not affect the viability of the market if New Mexico would elect not to participate,” he said.

Janice Adair, Washington’s point person and U.S. co-chair of WCI, noted that the initiative is more than its cap-and-trade program; governors and premiers in the initiative also work to spur investment in clean-energy technologies, create green jobs and encourage energy efficiency.

“I hope that Gov. Martinez is given the opportunity to understand this broader commitment that is part of the Western Climate Initiative and will continue New Mexico’s participation,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine, especially with gas prices on the rise, that any state would move away from energy efficiency and the development of a renewable energy portfolio.”