Lessons learned in the 2022 legislative session, and what comes next
The 2022 legislative session resulted in one, and only one, positive climate victory. The Community Energy Efficiency Development Block...
Goals are well and good - the goals set in the Clean Future Act are in alignment with IPCC emissions guidelines - but the devil is in the timeline. We cannot afford to begin the process of rulemaking in 2025 and expect to achieve any meaningful reductions by 2030. This cynical ploy to placate New Mexicans who rightfully fear for their future must not be allowed to pass unchallenged.
Critically, the bill also ignores the elephant in the room. Downstream emissions from oil and gas produced and exported from New Mexico remains conveniently unmentioned and unmitigated. The climate crisis will not respect New Mexico borders. Drought, wildfires and extreme heat caused by combustion of the oil and gas we export will impact our water, land and people as profoundly as our own direct emissions. Meaningful climate action requires that we act immediately to reduce drilling and fracking now.
On p. 7. Section 6 B the proposed bill states that the environment department shall petition the environmental improvement board to promulgate rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sources subject to the Air Quality Control Act no later than June 30, 2025. That is the date when the petition gets filed. It takes a minimum of two years to hold hearings on the petition, resolve inevitable appeals from industry and institute enforcement mechanisms.
The Clean Future Act has no enforcement provisions and creates no plan beyond setting emissions goals. The state could absolutely set definitive rules now - it did very specifically in the ETA (everything from specific amounts for undepreciated investments of $375m to... EIB SHALL “limit carbon dioxide emissions to no more than one thousand one hundred pounds per megawatt-hour on and after January 1, 2023 for a new or existing source….” (74-2-5)).
The reporting provisions in the Clean Future Act could be instituted by administrative action NOW. No legislation required. There are no penalties for non-reporting or failure to accomplish what's in the report because... no rules!
The bill sets up a "climate" fund but no appropriations are made and there are no specifics about what the fund is suppose to do except "administering and enforcing the greenhouse gas emissions rules." Like the regulatory scheme that funds OCD oversight of spills through fees and penalties charged to the O&G industry, the funding mechanism represents a conflict of interest, leaving an agency dependent on industry money to fund industry oversight.
Dangerously, the bill also facilitates the creation of a new offset scheme, allowing industry to delay and deflect under the cover of accounting gimmicks while actual emissions continue to rise.
WHAT ARE CARBON OFFSETS AND CARBON CREDITS?
Carbon offsets are projects that are claimed, in ways often unverifiable, to save specified amounts of emissions. These supposed savings are treated as if they were equivalent to actual emissions reductions. Offsets usually run in parallel with cap and trade schemes in which the cap is supposed to set a limit on pollution.
Carbon offsets generate credits which can be sold to polluters to allow them to emit pollution over and above their cap. Because credits are often designed to be cheaper or easier than actual emissions reductions, they are attractive to businesses that want the cheapest or easiest way out of reducing emissions at source.
THERE ARE THREE KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN IT COMES TO CARBON OFFSETS AND CARBON CREDITS:
1. Are the carbon credits being earned and traded a result of emissions reductions that would otherwise not be achievable through direct action like regulation and enforcement? For example - An oil and gas company captures methane at a drilling site, thus reducing emissions, and then sells its carbon credit to a utility that didn't reduce emissions. Is the credit earned justifiable when the government could have simply enforced methane capture technology for oil and gas wells?
2. Are the polluters buying credits making a cynical calculation that buying credits is cheaper than just reducing emissions? Using the same example above - is the utility company that purchased the credit truly unable to reduce emissions, or did they just decide that it's cheaper to buy a credit? The question is whether the polluter truly CAN'T reduce emissions, or simply WON'T because the government is not requiring them to do so.
Could more emissions reductions be achieved through mandates for both the buyer and seller of the credit?
3. In those cases when an industry truly CAN'T reduce emissions, are the emissions credits being purchased based on accurately measured and enduring reductions?? In most cases, the CO2 credits being counted include questionable mechanisms such as planting or maintaining trees that could burn in a year or two, sending all that credit up in smoke. The European Commission published a 2017 study revealing that 85% of carbon offset projects under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism failed to reduce emissions.
Offsets do not reduce emissions. In fact, they do not even compensate for emissions, as they are advertised to do, merely creating an illusion that something is being done about climate change. Instead, they allow emissions to continue and thus exacerbate global warming. Further, as research on offset projects in the global South has demonstrated, they violate human rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples and result in land grabs. In moving the responsibility for reducing emissions from one location to another, often from countries in the global North to countries in the South, they not only make climate change worse but also increase global inequality.
Carbon offsets, credits and trading schemes are designed by the fossil fuel interests that are promoting them around the world to obscure the truth. The most effective, rapid and just climate solutions are simple and direct - the Government must mandate reductions from every industry and incentivize the adoption of clean renewable energy. No ifs, ands, or buts.
The Northeast’s carbon trading system works quite well. It just doesn’t reduce much carbon. - Vox News, Feb 2017
One of the oldest and most enduring state efforts is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, a carbon cap-and-trade system operating in nine Northeastern states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. For those just getting to know RGGI, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that it’s working. A sane, bipartisan process yielded a smart policy framework with enduring and broadly shared social and economic benefits. The bad news is that RGGI isn’t succeeding in the one way that counts most: reducing carbon.
Capitalist Solutions WON’T Solve Climate Change: Carbon Pricing is a FALSE solution and not for NM - Pueblo Action Alliance - July 2021
We are already seeing land management projects on indigenous lands here in New Mexico. “The Mescalero Apache Tribe does the Forest Carbon Partners – Mescalero Apache Tribe Improved Forest Management Project on 200,000 acres in New Mexico (Indigenous Environmental Network).” This project sells permits (carbon credits) to polluters in California. And now there are some recent talks of Jicarilla Apache entering similar land management projects. Indigenous people and their lands are the carbon market’s target. Indigenous people are seen as exportable and leasing our land for carbon trading programs make the most sense. Tribes that are already in international carbon offset programs are making nothing compared to the trillion-dollar industry that is global oil and gas production. Carbon credits basically sell our clean air to polluters to keep up their dirty oil and gas productions in other parts of the world.
Why carbon pricing is not sufficient to mitigate climate change—and how “sustainability transition policy” can help - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) - April 2020
Carbon pricing faces five major issues that limit its use for accelerating deep decarbonization. First, carbon pricing frames climate change as a market failure rather than as a fundamental system problem. Second, it places particular weight on efficiency as opposed to effectiveness. Third, it tends to stimulate the optimization of existing
systems rather than transformation. Fourth, it suggests a universal instead of context-sensitive policy approach. Fifth, it fails to reflect political realities.
The Hidden Disequities of Carbon Trading: Carbon Emissions, Air Toxics, and Environmental Justice - Frontiers in Environmental Science - November 2021
The article explores unrecognized disequities in carbon trading. The transfer of carbon affects people and place in ways not internalized by these market instruments, for example the potential creation of sacrifice zones – i.e., carbon emissions and other airborne toxins may accumulate in one area as a big local emitter continues emitting carbon by buying credits from sources in other areas.
Systematic over-crediting of forest offsets - carbonplan.org April 2021
To better understand whether climate claims hold up in practice, report authors performed a comprehensive evaluation of California's forest carbon offsets program — the largest such program in existence, worth more than $2 billion. Their analysis of crediting errors demonstrated that a large fraction of the credits in the program do not reflect real climate benefits. The scale of the problem is enormous: 29% of the offsets analyzed are over-credited, totaling 30 million tCO₂e worth approximately $410 million. The research group described the trend as a “systematic over-crediting” problem that “effectively allow[s] pollution to continue”.
Why Carbon Markets Won't Work for Agriculture - Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy - January 2020
A recent analysis found that oil and gas company emissions in California have gone up in the period the California
carbon market has been active. Covered entities move their operations outside of the market’s area to areas with less stringent climate rules. This makes it appear as though the market has reduced emissions even though overall emissions rise. Many rural communities oppose carbon markets because they disproportionately impact low-income, minority and other disadvantaged communities. One company can buy up a large amount of credits to continue emitting or even increase their emissions, thus shirking responsibilities to address localized impacts from pollution. Because most power plants and polluting industries are situated in or near low income communities and communities of color, the continuing or even increased pollution in certain locations will harm those communities disproportionately. Inadequate measurement of carbon sequestration, volatile prices, and paying farmers for soil carbon offsets treats agricultural land narrowly as a carbon sink. Production for local food systems becomes a secondary function of farmland, bringing with it a range of social, economic and food justice concerns, particularly in areas where corporate retailers are divesting from rural communities. There are multiple benefits of a climate-friendly agricultural system, but practices designed primarily to generate carbon credits will not lead to such innovative and comprehensive approaches. Furthermore, offset projects in a carbon market tend to work best for large-scale farms, raising concerns that corporate investment in carbon markets will contribute to further consolidation of agricultural land and disadvantage small to mid-sized farmers.
A Net Zero number achieved through questionable accounting gimmicks is not the same as REAL zero. Actual emissions reduction is the only barometer that counts.