The New Mexican: Martinez and PNM Costing State Health and Money

October 2011

I know that many New Mexican’s are working more than one job to make ends meet in these tough times, but why does Gov. Susana Martinez feel compelled to moonlight as attorney and spokesperson for PNM?

In a recent address to PNM shareholders, Martinez lashed out against new Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce air pollution at PNM’s San Juan Generating Station and at the state’s landmark carbon pollution reduction law. Contrary to the talking points PNM provided to the governor, these regulations are designed to move New Mexico into the mainstream of sustainable economic growth and bring better health, jobs and opportunity to more New Mexico families and businesses.

Martinez has deployed the state’s legal resources, paid for by New Mexico taxpayers, to further the business interests of one of the state’s largest corporations. Why does this effort require the combined legal and lobbying muscle of Gov. Martinez and a multi-billion dollar corporation?

Basically, PNM’s myopic dependence on one antiquated coal plant lies so far outside sound economic, technological and energy security norms that it requires a government-mandated monopoly and millions of dollars in legal and lobbying fees to prop it up.

Commissioned in 1973, PNM’s San Juan Generating Station is one of America’s largest single sources of harmful air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. Each year, this inefficient, outdated facility also emits more than 8.5 million tons of carbon pollution and consumes more than 9.3 billion gallons of clean water.

This pollution costs New Mexico families and businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs, productivity losses and reduced property values each year. The historic drought and wildfires we see now will get worse as climate change intensifies. Coal combustion is the single greatest source of carbon pollution in New Mexico and globally.

The EPA rule being contested by PNM and Martinez requires the installation of proven, cost-effective pollution-control technology, selective catalytic reduction, to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide by 90 percent at the San Juan coal plant. Martinez says these pollution controls don’t make sense, but this technology is the industry standard and already is in use at more than 208 coal plants nationwide.

Does Martinez really believe that New Mexico’s economy and quality of life benefits from dependence on substandard energy technology and air pollution emissions among the worst in the entire country?

Martinez has also vowed to repeal the state’s landmark carbon pollution reduction law. Her friends, and campaign contributors, at PNM have initiated legal action to repeal this “symbolic” law before the state’s Environmental Improvement Board. The carbon pollution reduction law is built on sound economic and scientific facts. Not surprisingly, the law has been lauded by national experts for its capacity to improve New Mexico’s energy security by means of predictability, market-based mechanisms and extensive compliance flexibility. An economic analysis indicates this law has the potential to create 17,500 good-paying jobs in New Mexico’s electric sector alone and add more than $2 billion in total added economic value to New Mexico’s families and businesses.

An executive from Amonix, a maker of concentrating photovoltaic solar power systems, recently called me to see if the carbon reduction law is still in place. If so, they are considering building a new manufacturing plant here. New Mexico has the second highest solar power potential in the U.S. Why is our solar industry lagging behind other states?

Instead of supplementing PNM’s legal expenditures, cheering its reckless business practices and overlooking its destructive pollution, Gov. Martinez should pursue policies that build sustainable economic value for New Mexico families and businesses by reducing pollution and creating jobs in renewable energy.

Mariel Nanasi is a civil rights attorney and the executive director of New Energy Economy, an environmental advocacy nonprofit based in Santa Fe. 

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