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Can ExxonMobil be trusted as a partner?

May 27, 2019

ExxonMobil recently released a report that said its investment in New Mexico would generate $64 billion for the state over 40 years and stated, “We … will work hard to be a trusted member of the community.”

This report comes in the face of New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act, which will ensure that all our power is 100 percent emissions-free by 2050 and New Mexico will uphold the Paris Climate Agreement.

A recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund estimates our methane emissions in oil and gas sites are five times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency reported. One of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s first actions was to direct agencies to enact methane emission reduction rules as soon as possible. Some reports state emissions dropped significantly from 2011-17. That may have been true, but other data shows they have now surged. There are now online interactive maps of methane emissions coming from the oil and natural gas industry. The map for New Mexico can be found at http://gis.web.env.nm.gov. Maps don’t lie.

It’ll be interesting to see how hard ExxonMobil works to be a “trusted” member of our community” as the state’s Energy Transition Act is implemented and our state clamps down on methane emissions.

Exxon Mobil is fiercely fighting major climate change lawsuits brought by cities, states and investors across the country. These lawsuits are demanding accountability due to revelations that ExxonMobil long recognized the threat fossil fuels posed to the world. New York and Massachusetts have launched fraud investigations into its actions. These suits reveal that over 30 years ago, ExxonMobil understood that the world was facing catastrophic consequences as a result of the use of fossil fuels. Instead of acting on that information, it spent millions, possibly billions, to create doubt and confusion about whether humans could warm the planet. This included massive advertising campaigns as well as funding phony think tanks of climate change debunkers and deniers. And it filled the pockets of key politicians. Its strategy of deliberate deception worked.

This was not passive action. If it had sounded the alarm as a responsible, trustworthy corporation would have, we would be in a much better position to mitigate global warming now. These delays and the confusion they have intentionally created means the cost of mitigating climate change is far higher and the cost to the planet as a whole much greater. It will now take enormous resources and political will to salvage this situation. ExxonMobil now says it is backing a carbon tax but only if it receives immunity from lawsuits. Immunity would be a very bad idea.

Lujan Grisham ran on a platform that included the tightening of environmental guidelines for the state’s fossil fuel sector. Thus far, she’s making good on her promises. The question is whether ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel producers will be reliable and trustworthy partners.

What’s exciting is that the technology is there, and the will to act is no longer lacking. In New Mexico, our governor on one hand welcomes the economic benefits that the state presently receives from fossil fuels, and at the same time recognizes that we are moving into a transition economy and that our oil and gas industries must be carefully regulated. It’s going to be a fine dance requiring Olympic skill and finesse, but I understand that our governor is quite a dancer.

Judith Polich has lived in Santa Fe since 1987. She is a retired attorney and a student of climate change.

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