New Mexico threatens a U-turn on environmental regulations
New Mexico, the only state besides California to move forward on comprehensive global warming regulations, is reversing course under a new Republican governor, Susana Martinez. The move threatens to cripple the Western Climate Initiative, a California-driven effort to enact a regional trading program to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Martinez, who replaced Democrat Bill Richardson, announced on Tuesday that she is removing all members of New Mexico's Environmental Improvement Board because of what she said was its "anti-business" policies. After a heated debate, the board last year approved measures to limit the emissions of the state's largest polluters and to join the regional cap-and-trade program.
Supporters argue that the board, whose members were appointed by Richardson, went through an exhaustive public process before approving the regulations, but Martinez's office contends the board moved forward with the regulations after state lawmakers rejected similar efforts during the legislative process.
Martinez said in a statement that New Mexico has been hurt by policies that discourage economic development and result in businesses fleeing the state. "Unfortunately, the majority of EIB members have made it clear that they are more interested in advancing political ideology than implementing common-sense policies that balance economic growth with responsible stewardship in New Mexico," Martinez said.
With global warming legislation stymied in Congress by coal and oil interests, environmentalists have looked to the states for measures to address the growing levels of carbon dioxide emissions that are trapping heat in Earth's atmosphere and causing changes in the climate. California, New Mexico and other Western states have begun to suffer longer droughts, rapidly melting snowpacks and other effects that scientists attribute to human-induced global warming.
Northeastern states have imposed a cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gas emissions of power plants. Under California's 2006 global warming legislation, the state's air resources board last month enacted cap-and-trade rules covering a broad range of industries, including cement, oil and electric power. New Mexico was expected to be the next state to follow suit.
The Western Climate Initiative, originally envisioned as covering seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, would be a hedge against businesses moving to other states to avoid emissions regulations.
Martinez's letter to the New Mexico board members, who serve at the governor's pleasure, said their removal was effective immediately. If any members wish to reapply, Martinez said she would consider their qualifications on a case-by-case basis.
Cap-and-trade critics had alleged during the board's hearings last year on the emissions proposals that some board members had a conflict of interest and were too closely aligned with environment interests. Board members and the state attorney general dismissed those claims.
Gay Dillingham, the board's chairwoman, told the Associated Press she hopes Martinez's administration takes the time to understand the emissions program. She noted that the board reviewed 200 hours of technical testimony, public comments and complex documents before reaching a decision. "So as a citizen, I would expect the same dedication be given to reviewing all the evidence before she commits to overturning or supporting it," Dillingham said. "History has shown us there is a dynamic relationship between regulatory obligation and private-sector innovation, and we need enough time to give this process a chance to work for New Mexico."
The fate of the emissions rules remains uncertain. Martinez issued an executive order Saturday halting all pending regulations by executive branch agencies under her control to determine whether they hurt businesses in New Mexico. She also directed agencies to review rules now in place and determine by the end of the month which ones should be scrapped to improve economic development and job growth.
Even if Martinez's administration overturns the rules, another public process — including a hearing and an opportunity for the public to comment — would be necessary.
--Margot Roosevelt, with the Associated Press
Photo: The Four Corners Power Plant in Fruitland, N.M., spews tons of invisible toxic pollutants from burning coal into the air, including nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and mercury. Emissions from such plants could be curbed under greenhouse gas regulations. Credit: Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald; New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez/Credit: William Faulkner/AP