By Susan Montoya Bryan
Environmental groups rejoiced Monday after efforts to roll back New Mexico’s new greenhouse gas emissions rules failed during the legislative session that ended over the weekend.
Gov. Susana Martinez has vowed to continue reviewing all state regulations, however, with an eye toward improving the business climate in New Mexico and creating jobs.
Martinez said at a news conference after the end of the session Saturday that she’s looking at laws passed by the Legislature as well as those approved by various state boards, commissions and executive agencies.
“Are they strangling the development of jobs here in New Mexico? Are they scientifically based? Are there good reasons for those regulations to be in place?” she asked.
The session started in January with a handful of proposals aimed at either repealing or suspending greenhouse gas regulations that the state Environmental Improvement Board adopted last year. There were also efforts to keep the board from approving such regulations in the future.
Despite the concerns of environmentalists, all the measures stalled in committee.
New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based environmental group that pushed for some of the emissions rules, sees the defeat of the bills as a turning point in the debate over how to grow the economy and maintain New Mexico’s role as an energy producing state.
“There is an emerging clean energy market that makes sense,” said Mariel Nanasi, the group’s executive director. “People care about the environment and also don’t think that the economy and the environment are at odds with one another.”
Economics has been at the root of much of the debate surrounding New Mexico’s effort to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions blamed for global warming.
Supporters contend the state can’t afford to leave such emissions unchecked and that New Mexico’s mandates for reducing greenhouse gases will help spur clean energy development.
Martinez, some lawmakers and other critics are concerned the rules will lead to higher costs for New Mexico families and will drive businesses and jobs from the state.
Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, said putting the brakes on the emissions rules was a top priority going into the session. Having the legislation stall was no surprise, but he said he remains concerned that some of the state’s boards and commissions have usurped the Legislature’s authority by approving policies that have such broad implications for New Mexicans.
In November, the Environmental Improvement Board narrowly approved a proposal by the state Environment Department to establish regulations that allow New Mexico to participate in a regional cap-and-trade program with other Western states and Canadian provinces. The program would force coal-fired power plants, refineries, natural gas compressor stations and other facilities that pump out a certain level of carbon dioxide each year to reduce those emissions by 2 percent annually starting in 2012.
A month later, the board approved the rules advocated by New Energy Economy. Those are essentially a backup measure to the cap-and-trade program that would still require large polluters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions each year from baseline levels.
Leavell argued that the administration of former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson had the board take action because it failed to get legislation passed that would clear the way for the state to regulate the gases.
“That was the concern. That’s the way it ran for the last eight years, and it’s not in the people’s best interest,” he said.