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New Mexico governor joins alliance against climate change

January 30, 2019
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, signs an executive order for state agencies to aggressive pursue strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Santa Fe, N.M. flanked by student activists on global warming issues. The order endorses goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming and sets in motion new efforts to encourage renewable energy development, improve energy efficiency for buildings, safeguard air quality and possibly set new vehicle emission standards. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday committed her fledgling Democratic administration to aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions amid a boom in oil and natural gas production in the state, while endorsing goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming.

Flanked by newly appointed energy and environment secretaries, Lujan Grisham signed an executive order that sets in motion efforts to encourage renewable energy development, improve energy efficiency for buildings, safeguard air quality and consider stricter pollution-emission standards for cars sold in the state.

The state will pursue a 45 percent reduction in the emission of heat-trapping gases by 2030. The goal is benchmarked to 2005 emission levels.

The executive order also brings New Mexico into the so-called U.S. Climate Alliance of governors from 19 states that are pursuing goals of the Paris agreement. In 2017, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the international agreement that seeks to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

“Our goal is to eclipse states that are successfully doing this work,” said Lujan Grisham, singling out Colorado’s progress on limiting methane emissions through state regulation.

The push to broaden climate-change regulations corresponds with a surge in oil production in the Permian Basin that straddles the Texas-New Mexico state line and the potential closure of the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico as soon as 2022. Plans to retire the coal-fired power plant have touched off contentious deliberations about potential sources of replacement power and the effect on local jobs and utility finances.

Lujan Grisham on Tuesday reiterated her commitment to developing new regulatory rules on methane emissions, along with support for legislation to increase production quotas for renewable energy by electric utilities.

Her executive order convenes a “climate change task force” — led by the state’s energy and environment secretaries — that will call on all Cabinet secretaries to develop an economy-wide strategy for combatting global warming. It set a Sept. 15 deadline for initial recommendations.

Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the order suggests possible market-based approaches to limiting carbon dioxide emissions, which could include a cap-and-trade system.

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre said state officials have provided a preview of regulatory plans with energy producers and “indicated a willingness to work together moving forward.”

He said oil and gas producers in have invested in advanced technologies that reduce methane emissions in New Mexico. The governor’s order cites an increase in the volume of methane released in 2018 as a result of production in the Permian Basin.

Tuesday’s announcements reinforced a sharp break with the governor’s Republican predecessor, Susana Martinez, who Lujan Grisham accused of failing to enforce environmental protections for clean air and water.

With the change in administrations on Jan. 1, state oilfield regulators are reconsidering a decision last year that eased restrictions on natural gas well locations for a Texas-based company operating in the northwest corner of the state. The Democrat-led state Legislature is considering a higher maximum royalty rate for future oil production on state trust land. Another bill backed by the governor seeks to ramp up production of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar to 50 percent by 2030 for investor-owned utilities.

“This is an administration that is going to make sure that we are robustly enforcing the current environmental rules,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’ll be looking to expand that.”

The state will explore ways to add electrical transmission lines to spur new wind and solar energy development and seek revisions to energy efficiency provisions in building codes, said Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

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