Dems push N.M. as ‘clean energy state’

Source: Kellie Lunney, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2019

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham today made clear she expects her state to lead the country in mitigating the environmental impacts of fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy, while also working with an oil and gas industry that contributes significantly to the state’s economy.

The former Democratic congresswoman acknowledged during a House subcommittee field hearing in Santa Fe that the oil and gas industry provides for the “lion’s share of the state’s budget” and helps fund important policy priorities for her administration, including early childhood education initiatives.

Grisham, elected as governor in November, thanked companies for “being open-minded, coming to the table and participating” in efforts to achieve responsible energy development in a state that ranks as the country’s third-largest oil producer and seventh largest gas producer.

At the same time, she told her former congressional colleagues that the next time they visit the Land of Enchantment, “I want you to refer to us not as the great state of New Mexico, but as the clean energy state.”

The governor, whose third executive order in office established “aggressive” statewide benchmarks for methane emissions and created a climate change task force, is carefully threading the needle between pragmatic state executive and progressive clean energy cheerleader and environmental steward.

“I expect New Mexico to be a model,” Grisham said, vowing to transition her state to 50% renewable energy by 2030 and 80% by 2040.

The governor says she also realizes the necessity of collaborating with companies to prevent waste from methane venting and flaring — for public health concerns and the state’s bottom line.

“Beyond the climate and ozone implications, methane emissions represent lost revenues to the state,” Grisham told the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

“Although our state agencies are still working to determine how much is recoverable, the natural gas industry loses millions upon millions each year due to venting, flaring and leaks, according to the best scientific estimates and industry’s self-reported data,” she said.

The climate change task force includes the industry, Grisham said. “I expect our oil and gas stakeholders are going to do a lot” to help the state recapture those emissions, she added.

Earlier this month, Grisham signed into law a wide-ranging oil and gas bill that, among other things, aims to strengthen oversight and clarify the reuse of wastewater in drilling operations to reduce the need for fresh water.

The reform bill attracted the support of both industry and the environmental community, albeit for different reasons.

For instance, greens are not crazy about the water language. But the stronger enforcement of industry was enough for many of them to hold their noses and go along with H.B. 546 in the end.

‘One thousand percent’

Today’s hearing also highlighted the effects of oil and gas drilling on Native American communities and tribal lands, including Chaco Canyon, a sacred cultural and UNESCO World Heritage site in New Mexico.

“If there is increased oil and gas development in the Chaco region, there will be increased risk for disturbance of the structures and artifacts,” Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer told lawmakers.

He also recognized that “oil and gas development has provided sustained income for the tribal government and provided jobs for the Navajo Nation.”

Indigenous communities need to be a key part of the decisionmaking process when it comes to energy development, Lizer said.

“In the past, the Navajo Nation has used its carbon-based natural resources to provide energy to the United States,” he said.

“However, the ability for the Navajo Nation to determine where oil and gas development occurs and the ability to regulate oil and gas development is fundamental to providing a clean environment and protecting Native American sacred sites,” he said.

Democrats, including Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, subcommittee Chairman Alan Lowenthal of California and New Mexico Reps. Deb Haaland and Ben Ray Luján, this past weekend visited oil and gas operations in the San Juan Basin, which includes Chaco Canyon, along with environmental advocacy group Earthworks. They used optical gas imaging to see firsthand the air pollution caused by methane emissions.

“Our team showed up to see the extent that emissions can harm the air and land that holds our heritage, and we toured the ancestral homelands of the Pueblo people,” said Haaland of the visit. “We’ll use this on-the-ground experience to further our efforts to ensure Chaco is here for our future generations.”

New Mexico lawmakers last week reintroduced legislation that would protect from future energy and mineral development more than 316,000 acres of federal land around Chaco Canyon.

The bill would establish a 10-mile buffer around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, banning new drilling or mineral extraction from the protected federal lands. It would not apply to minerals in the area owned by private, state or tribal entities.

Currently there are more than 100 active oil wells in the legislation’s proposed buffer zone. Luján asked Grisham during the hearing whether she supported the bill.

“One thousand percent,” she said.