New Mexico adopts climate change legislation

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed groundbreaking legislation that will move the Land of Enchantment toward 100% renewable energy in the next 25 years.

Two states— California and Hawaii— have passed similar legislation. Supporters of the New Mexico legislation said that it is more aggressive in its timeline.

The newly signed legislation establishes benchmarks or goals of being 50% carbon-free by 2030 and 80% by 2040.

“This is a really big deal,” said Lujan Grisham in a press release. “This legislation is a promise to future generations of New Mexicans, who will benefit from both a cleaner environment and a more robust energy economy with exciting career and job opportunities.”  

District 36 Representative Nathan Small said that the process of creating legislation to switch to 100 percent renewable energy started during the 2018 legislative session, but could not pass until this year’s session, largely thanks to the new governor’s support

Small said New Mexico is particularly well-suited to alternative energy sources.

“We have the most, economically, to gain from tapping into that, creating sustainable jobs and long-term revenue sources,” Small said. “I think there’s a clear economic benefit and economic opportunity drive.”

Economic Impact and Jobs

Small said that an estimated 8,000 jobs will be created by 2030 with the new legislation in place, something he said that he wants to make sure New Mexicans can benefit from.

“That is a big part of what really drove the apprentice hiring standards for new electricity generation,” Small said, referring to a state program that will help train people to work in alternative energy industries.

The biggest point of contention in the legislative debate over the power bill was the future of the San Juan Generating Station, a coal-burning power plant located in northwestern New Mexico, which, while being a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gases, provides many jobs in the Four Corners area. The plant is partially owned and operated by PNM, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, the public utility providing power to most New Mexicans.

The bill allocates $60 million that will aid in closing the powerplant. Of that, $20 million will be put towards retraining workers who would lose their job from the closure. This allocation helps PNM avoid major financial difficulties when closing the plant.

According to Small, the San Juan power plant was already scheduled to close and this bill simply aids in the process.

“What I’m really proud of there is that we took an approach of leaving no New Mexican behind and working very hard to build a smooth and just transition,” Small said. “There was a sense in economic opportunity, I think fairness and looking out for one-another that I think that’s part of who we are as New Mexicans that really drove this.”

Energy Transition Act and the Oil Fields

Perhaps there’s irony in the fact that New Mexico, while heading toward 100% renewable energy, remains a huge exporter of fossil fuels.

New Mexico is currently the third largest oil producer behind North Dakota and Texas, according to the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

In addition, the state is the midst of a major oil boom in the Permian Basin located in the southeastern portion of the state and west Texas.

According to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division, New Mexico produced a record-breaking 248 million barrels of oil in 2018.

The New Mexico Oil Conservation Division is responsible for regulating all the oil and gas activity in the state according to their website.

New Mexico total oil production, measured in millions of barrels, on the rise.

This is a large increase from 2017— the previous state record-holder— when 172 million barrels of oil were produced by the state.

Small said that this new legislation should not affect the industry.

“We don’t use oil to generate electricity,” Small said.

In addition, a majority of the oil retrieved by the state in the Permian Basin is exported and not used in-state.

Shayla Cunico is a reporter for the NM News Port, she can be contacted on Twitter @ShaylaCunico.

Makayla Grijalva is a reporter for the NM News Port, she can be contacted on Twitter @MakaylaEliboria.