NMED pushes to fund climate office

Sandra Ely, director of the Environmental Protection Division of the New Mexico Department of the Environment, said this was a “decisive decade” in terms of climate change.

Ely is one of the “key architects” of a proposed climate office within NMED, according to Secretary James Kenney. Ely and Kenney spoke to NM Policy Report this week about the climate office.

The amount of what Kenney describes as “seed capital” the Department of the Environment could launch this office depends on the state legislature.

The governor and the Legislative Finance Committee have released budget proposals that include wildly different numbers. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham requested $2.5 million for the climate office, which would fund 15 full-time positions. In contrast, LFC has offered between $200,000 and $400,000, which would support three to seven full-time positions depending on what happens with the Hydrogen Hub Act and clean fuel standards.

The executive and LFC budget proposals call for increased spending after a year of strong oil and gas revenues. The Governor’s proposal for the overall recurrent General Fund budget is $8.45 billion, an increase of 13.4%. LFC’s proposal is slightly higher at $8.46 billion, an increase of 14%. But where the expenses are directed differs between the two proposals.

Ben Shelton, policy and legislative director of Conservation Voters New Mexico, and Brittany Fallon, policy director of New Mexico Wild, said the LFC budget focuses more on one-time expenses while the governor’s budget includes more recurring investments. in areas such as the environment and climate change.

In the LFC budget message, Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, both highlighted the volatility in the oil and gas economy and the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19 on the state.

Shelton said LFC’s budget proposals tend to be more environmentally conservative than Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proposals, but he said the difference in funding between the two for environment-related projects like the climate office was disappointing. He said the LFC proposal “eliminates” climate investments.

The climate desk is just one area where the executive’s budget and the LFC’s budget recommendations have stark differences. The governor’s budget provides nearly $2.4 million for water protection, including increasing water resilience. Meanwhile, LFC’s proposal includes $240,000 for that purpose. Under the governor’s proposal, NMED would receive $2.3 million and 19 full-time employees to ensure the safety of edible and topical recreational cannabis. The LFC proposal is asking for $239,000 and six full-time cannabis security staff.

Officials say the climate office is needed to implement current and future policies and legislation

Ely has worked on climate change issues with NMED since 2005 and said the environment department had “done their best”.

“We have a lot of passion and a lot of desire, but we haven’t had a lot of resources to do the job that needs to be done,” Ely said. “Now, in this watershed decade, as we see the impacts of climate all around us, it is imperative that we as a state finally step up and dedicate the resources and personnel we need to reduce emissions. And that’s what it’s all about.

Ely and Kenney said the climate bureau will help implement existing policies, including rules on ozone precursor pollutants, as well as new rules, regulations and legislation that are coming. This includes the Zero Emission Economy Act which will be introduced this legislative session and calls for reducing emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and to net zero emissions by 2050. Draft discussion text for the bill was released on Wednesday.

Shelton said the difference between what New Mexico could accomplish with a 15-person climate office versus a three- to seven-person climate office becomes apparent when looking at this bill.

If this legislation is passed, NMED and its sister agency, the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, will be required to submit annual reports on the state’s progress in meeting gas emission limits. greenhouse gases set by the bill. These reports would be required to include a statewide greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

Additionally, the legislation would require NMED to apply to the Environmental Improvement Council by the end of June 2025 to create rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sources subject to the Environment Act. air quality control.

Ely said the climate office will also be responsible for developing an analysis outlining how the state can meet its 2030 emissions goals.

The Hydrogen Hub Act, which will be presented this session, will also require additional NMED resources and staff that the climate office could provide.

This legislation has been pushed back by members of the environmental community who say it prolongs the use of natural gas and its associated emissions. Indeed, hydrogen would probably be produced from methane, a main component of natural gas. The carbon would be separated from the hydrogen molecules. It’s not the only way to get hydrogen. Hydrogen can also be produced from water by electrolysis, but it costs more. Some environmentalists also doubt that New Mexico is the right place for hydrogen produced by electrolysis due to the scarcity of water resources.

Kenney said the hydrogen industry is coming to the state, and if left unchecked, it could grow in a way that would undermine New Mexico’s progress in reducing emissions. . Creating hydrogen-focused legislation now could not only help prevent that from happening, but could also provide a way to decarbonise sectors like transport, he said.

Kenney said that while New Mexico doesn’t have a lot of fresh water to spare, it does have brackish water that could potentially be used for hydrogen production.

Kenney and Ely further said the future climate bureau will create opportunities for economic development and signal to the rest of the world that New Mexico is serious about addressing climate change. Kenney said companies looking to expand see New Mexico as a potential place to set up in part because of climate change policies.

When asked where he sees the climate bureau accomplishing over the next decade, Kenney said the state will experience increased economic growth as new policies and legislation relying on the climate bureau are implemented. work. He gave the example of clean fuel standards, which the legislator will take up this year. It could create thousands of new jobs in the state and drive an estimated $450 million in investments in communities across the state.

He said biomass, like wood fuels, could be turned into diesel to meet clean fuel standards. This would lead to lower gas prices and less intense wildfires, which in turn would lead to cleaner drinking water.

“It’s not a fairy tale,” Kenney said. “Other states have done it.”

While NMED looked at what other states like Washington did when creating the proposed climate office, Ely said the department had it “in New Mexico” to meet the needs of the State.

Comments are closed.