N.M. gov. pitches aggressive plan on emissions, renewables

Source: By Mike Lee, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2019

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration plans to join other states in addressing climate change and cutting emissions from the energy sector.

Lujan Grisham (D) said in her first State of the State speech this week that New Mexico will join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a consortium of governors that’s trying to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord. She also said she’ll sign an order telling state agencies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and will seek legislation to boost the state’s renewable power portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.

Her first budget includes more staff for the state’s oil and gas regulator, and she’s proposed statewide rules to cut methane emissions from the drilling industry.

“We know we cannot rely on the federal government right now to lead us on climate action,” Lujan Grisham said. “It is our responsibility and indeed our moral obligation to ensure this planet and this state are preserved for our children and for their children.”

Lujan Grisham’s goals may be less ambitious than in some states — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) wants to get 100 percent of his state’s power from renewables by 2040 — but they mark a significant change from her predecessor. Former Gov. Susana Martinez (R), who served eight years, vetoed tax incentives for solar power and rolled back regulations on oil and gas production even as the state became the third-biggest oil producer.

Just in the past year, New Mexico’s oil production has spiked by 49 percent, to 771,000 barrels a day in October, according to the Department of Energy. The growth is due to the spread of drilling and fracking in the Permian Basin oil field.

New Mexico’s current renewable standard requires investor-owned utilities to get 20 percent and rural cooperatives to get 10 percent of their power from renewables by 2020. The state Legislature, which opened its session this week, will have to pass a measure to increase the requirement, said Sarah Cottrell Propst, who’s awaiting confirmation as Lujan Grisham’s secretary of energy, minerals and natural resources.

The Department of Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources (EMNRD) historically has played a role in developing renewable energy policy, and Lujan Grisham’s budget adds three staffers to work on energy conservation management.

The methane regulations can likely be adopted by state agencies without new legislation, Propst said. She and James Kenney, who’s been appointed as the state’s environmental secretary, have had preliminary discussions, although she said it’s unclear how long the process will take.

“The governor’s been very clear — she wants a very strong protective methane rule,” Propst said.

Lujan Grisham has also requested eight new staffers to work on permitting and inspections in the state Oil Conservation Division, which is part of EMNRD. That’s a 13 percent increase over the current level of 61 employees.

Separately, a bill in the state Senate would restore the department’s authority to issue fines to oil and gas companies that violate environmental rules. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the Oil Conservation Division can only refer cases to the state attorney general for enforcement (Energywire, Nov. 14, 2013).

Propst said it’s important for the agency to have enforcement authority but stressed she wants to cooperate with the oil and gas industry whenever possible. She’s already met with oil companies.

“We may not always agree — what we can commit to is having a good open-door policy,” she said. “A lot of times there are technical things we can work out through dialogue.”