New Mexico in Focus: Greenhouse Gas Cap-Killer Dies in Committee

February 2011

By Gwyneth Doland

An effort to get rid of climate change rules passed late in Gov. Bill Richardson’s term failed in the state Legislature today when the seven Democrats on the the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against it.

Senate bill 190, sponsored by Sen. Caroll Leavell, R-Jal, would have repealed four rules, approved by the Environmental Improvement Board, that would have restricted greenhouse gas emissions.

Before the hearing began, two people I interviewed said the bill was irrelevant—a change to these rules will have to come through the Environmental Improvement Board.

Effort not constitutional, opponents argued

One of the major issues of debate was whether the Legislature has the ability to overturn rules approved by the EIB, which is part of the Executive branch.

“From a constitutional law perspective there are separation of powers issues here,” Laura Sanchez of the Natural Resources Defense Council told me before the hearing.

“There’s been authority delegated to a board to do something and the Legislature can’t then, after it’s been through a public process, just repeal the rule. They can take the authority away from the board, but in order to reconsider the rule, they’ll have to go back through the board.”

Gerges Scott, of the communications firm DW Turner, whose clients include Conoco Philips, The American Petroleum Institute and BHP Billiton, agreed, saying, “”I think to undo this you’re going to have to go through the same process that brought us here.”

Later, committee member John Ryan, R-Albuquerque said ”I’m not afraid of the constitutional issue.”

But committee member Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who is also an attorney, said: ”My gut tells me we can’t do this.”

“If we’ve delegated to EIB, then for us to come back along and say we’re going to do a legislative veto, I just have a real hard time seeing how we do that. The governor has reappointed the EIB and they can go back in and look at this regulation,” Wirth said.

Gov. Susana Martinez dismissed the entire board and has reappointed new members who will presumably share her more conservative views on the issue.

The committee heard wildly differing opinions on the issue from more than a dozen people, mostly representatives of the oil and gas industry or of environmental groups.

“This will make it easier and cheaper for large industries to do what they do”

Rebecca Proctor, was the only one who spoke Friday afternoon but did not identify herself as belonging to a group or company.

“When I get behind the wheel of a vehicle, you expect me to be responsible,” Proctor told the lawmakers, adding that she expected the same from them.

“It’s clear to me that this bill targets these rules, not to make it easier for poor rural electrical coops to operate, but to make it easier and cheaper for large industries to do what they do,” she said.

Rules could increase gas blackouts, PNM rep says

A spokesman for the Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state’s largest electricity company, said the rule could cause more shortages of natural gas.

“There’s no technology right now that will reduce greenhouse gasses. In order for us to achieve it we’d have to shut down coal plants and if we shut down coal plants what’s going to happen is that we’ll have to replace that with natural gas in the short term, so that further exposes our communities to blackouts.”

Cost of the rules is not clear

The rules would hurt New Mexico’s chile growers, said Charlie Marcus of the New Mexico Chile Association, who explained that chile growers use power for pumps that irrigate their fields.

Steven Michel, of Western Resource Advocates told the committee that  ”A lot of what you’ve heard is at best…very exaggerated,” and said “the cost will be trivial.” He said the rules would only cost $ .04 more per barrel.

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