In a move some might call controversial, both of New Mexico’s senators have not only backed a bill that puts southeastern New Mexico, and most of the state’s economy, squarely in the crosshairs of the environmental debate, but they cosponsored it.
Incumbent NM senators Tom Udall, and Martin Heinrich joined with 31 other Democratic Senators, including Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to introduce the Clean Economy Act, which aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050.
The legislation would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop plans based on a goal of achieving rapid reductions of greenhouse gases. The EPA would also be required to build upon existing state, local and private climate programs and set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2025, 2030 and 2040.
“First off, I’d like to point out that we’re (the oil and gas industry) continuing to reduce emissions even while production has reached historic levels. Just over the past decade, the EPA started collecting the data around the emissions of greenhouse gases from oil and gas production, we’ve seen those numbers consistently fall since the collection of that data began in 2010,” said Director of Communication for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) Robert McEntyre. “Over the same period we’ve consistently hit new highs in oil production, crossing 100 million barrels, 200 million barrels, and we expect, when the numbers come in for 2019, that we will have crossed 300 million barrels. And, all the while emissions continue to decline.”
Republican candidates looking to fill the seat Udall is vacating, say this isn’t about green energy, but it is more about being a power grab by unaccountable government agencies.
“It’s a transfer of power and a transfer of wealth from one industry to another, and punishing oil and gas,” said Elisa Martinez, a member of the Navajo Nation and the Executive Director of the New Mexico Alliance for Life. She is also one of five Republican candidates running to replace Udall, who has resigned his senate seat. “These proposals are unrealistic and ultimately of design to transfer more power and control of our lives to the very bureaucrats in Washington D.C., who we don’t trust. And, it will have an over-reaching impact on our entire economy. (The oil and gas industry) is the backbone of what drives commerce and trade.”
Devastating to the NewMexico economy
Other Republican candidates vying for Udall’s senate seat agree.
“This could be devastating to our country,” said Mick Rich, a businessman and candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018. “For them to go back and say we’re going to go back to carbon free zero, means that they’re going to takes us back potentially to the dark ages. What we need to be looking at is an energy policy that makes sense environmentally and economically.”
“First of all, what always concerns me in bills like this is they give very little detail, and what they are really doing here is they’re empowering the EPA, an unaccountable group of bureaucrats, to go and just inflict themselves on southeastern New Mexico without any accountability,” said former KRQE chief meteorologist Mark Ronchetti. “And, that’s going to be a huge issue in and of itself. I think a lot of times they ‘hide the ball’ with these bills with no details at all. We know this much, if they are able to do this, and if they are able to pass this through, this would devastate southeast New Mexico.”
But current senators Heinrich and Udall don’t see it that way at all, and stress the environmental concerns and possible future catastrophes.
“The climate crisis often feels too great, too complex, and too difficult to fix. But the truth is, we already have the creativity, workforce, and technology to dramatically reduce carbon pollution. All we need is the political will to get it done,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud that New Mexico is leading the way in the clean energy transition with its own state-level policies that set a goal of 100 percent carbon-free power by 2045. We need to set the same types of ambitious and achievable targets at the federal level.”
“The science could not be clearer: human – caused climate change is an existential threat to our planet and our children’s future – and New Mexico is in the bull’s eye,” said Udall.
And the lone Democrat who is running to replace Udall agrees. Incumbent Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, NM-3, is a co-sponsor, along with about 130 other, mostly Democrat, representatives in the House on the 100% Clean Economy Act of 2019, H.B. 5221.
Press Secretary for Lujan Adan Serna said, “(Congressman Lujan) is a cosponsor of the House equivalent (H.R. 5221) of that bill.”
NM-2 Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small did not return a request for comment, but the Communications Director, Paloma Perez said, “The Congress-woman and our team are still in the process of reviewing the bill as well as engaging stakeholders from all sides of the issue to better understand its potential impact on New Mexican families, industry, and the state’s future as a net energy exporter.”
Opponents of Torres Small for the fifth largest congressional district in the country — larger than the entire state of Florida — didn’t shy away from the debate.
“I think that anything that would cost New Mexico 100,000 jobs and one-third of it’s budget is an absolutely ridiculous idea,” said Republican challenger for the NM-2 seat Claire Chase.
“It matters who’s making decisions. We’re now passing legislation that will cripple (the oil and gas) industry,” Yvette Herrell who is also a Republican challenger for the NM-2 seat. “How do we even look at this without thinking New Mexico will absolutely close down? What people don’t understand is that oil and gas isn’t just about pulling it out of the ground and putting it into a car. There are so many things, and products and services that use fossil fuels — medical equipment, and aerospace, and all kinds of things.”
Still, while three of New Mexico’s five representatives in Washington, openly strive to push forward a national green agenda, much like the Green New Deal Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed here in New Mexico, opponents disagree with the impact it could have not only on the state, but the nation as a whole.
“Obviously this would be devastating for New Mexico because oil and gas are our number one revenue producing industry. These are well-paying jobs. New Mexicans are able to provide for their families and provide upward mobility which is something that is hard to come by in our state. In a state that is one of the highest rated in poverty and economic freedom, (oil and gas) is kind of the backbone of our state’s economy,” Martinez said.
“I don’t understand how two senators from this state, and they know that we rely so heavily on oil and gas, aren’t more invested in innovation as opposed to putting people out of business in the southeast,” Ronchetti said. “If they (senators Udall and Heinrich) got to do what they want to do, I’d hate to think of what would be happening in the southeast (corner of New Mexico). I can’t imagine that people down there aren’t scared to death.”
Former Congressman of NM-2, and current NM Republic chair Steve Pearce said the bill is not only bad for the energy producers in New Mexico and around the country, but is also just bad for New Mexico.
“It’ll be the single largest job-killing act that would ever have affected New Mexico. It would be devastating to families, not just those who make their living in the oilfield, but those who work for the state government too. It’s devastating to jobs and secondly to the state, about 40% of the state’s budget comes from oil and gas, so it would be equally harmful to our state employees. I don’t think anyone is looking to take a 40 or 50 percent pay cut, or see our state police reduced by 50 percent,” Pearce said. “All in all, it would be something that I’m not sure New Mexico could ever recover from.”
Still, both New Mexican senators stress the environment concerns outweigh some of the other priorities
“Nearly 50 years ago, my father, Stewart Udall, sounded the alarm on human-caused environmental tragedies. Half a century later, we are running out of time to halt the greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The consequences of inaction are staggering for our economy and the natural world, and building our green economy is critical to ensuring that the United States continues to lead the global economy for years to come,” Udall said. “Passing this legislation is not only the right action, it is a necessary action.”
“We’ve been hearing the justifications that life as we know it is going to come to and end, but we’ve been seeing those predictions now for the last 20 or 30 years, and nothing has come to pass that they’ve been talking about — the melting of the polar ice cap, the polar bear is going to be extinct, there’s going to be massive flooding and the sea level is going to rise,” Pearce said.
The science of climate change
As a former chief meteorologist, Ronchetti is in an unique position in the debate and knows a thing or two about the science involved in climate change.
“What we have here is a campaign that is largely centered around scaring the living daylights out of everybody so they can jump into the regulatory process and go after people’s livelihoods,” Ronchetti said. “Where the science is on this, to me, if you add CO2 to a closed parcel grid, you will warm it up, so we do need to address the way we power everything, and we are. What we’ve done, and you can see we’ve done this, is if you look at CO2 levels now, versus where they were 10 years ago, they’re consistently going down.”
“There’s no consistency, and no one can understand how they are drawing these conclusions,” Herrell said. “You can’t just try to go completely green. It’s not ready. It’s gone from one extreme to the other. The technology isn’t 100 percent there, it’s unreliable, and we can’t afford to subsidize it as we go.”
Many scientists have warned that humanity must limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. According to the United Nations 2019 Emissions Gap Report, global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are falling short—risking that current and future generations will pay the price of today’s inaction.
“The crisis of nature and the crisis of climate change have risen to a crescendo – and the public is ready for action,” Udall said in an address to Colorado College State of the Rockies Project on Thursday. “Here’s the good news: I’m here to tell you we can do it. Because a movement is building – and it starts right here in the West.”
But opponents say the technology isn’t viable yet to go completely go off fossil fuels.
“The problem is there is nothing to underpin our power grid right now. If you got off of fossil fuels and said, ‘that’s the devil, that’s everything,’ and you got off of it, you’d have no way to power everything,” Ronchetti said. “We don’t have the batteries — right now the technology doesn’t exist in a financial fashion to be able to do it. So, the problem you end up with here is everybody is suggesting things that can’t possibly be done without destroying your standard of living.”
The China and India problem
While all agree that working toward a cleaner environment and doing eve r y t h i n g necessary to achieve that is what the U.S. should be doing, they worry that the U.S. is acting alone, while nothing is being done about countries who have a much larger carbon footprint is something that is echoed by almost everyone in opposition to the bill.
“None of these things make any sense if the worst offenders, which are China and other parts of the world are not on board,” Martinez said.
“Something they never address, in these cases, they want to go and foist all of this across southeastern New Mexico and destroy that portion of our energy economy without ever addressing things like China,” Ronchetti said. “Everyone talks about the Paris Climate Accords. We had a bunch of things we would’ve had to do with the Paris Climate Accords while China had nothing — while they’re belching out far more CO2 than we are.
“What concerns me is when you put that weight on our shoulders, and put none of it on India or China’s shoulders, you could do all of this in the United States and make no difference. I’m not saying we don’t do anything, we absolutely do. And we address things through a variety of different channels, but to sit here and act like it’s all on our shoulders to fix, and if we don’t do it, we’re bad people, is unfair, and unrealistic.”
“The U.S. is the leading country in reducing CO2 emissions in the last decade, so I’m not really sure what they are trying to get at.” Chase said. “Perhaps they should do legislation to encourage China and India to reduce their carbon emissions before attacking the number one industry in the state of New Mexico — the state that they represent.”
“I whole-heartedly agree with keeping the environment clean, but the idea that the U.S. acting alone is going to influence the CO2 emissions, with India, with China, with other nations being hard into coal, as we are shutting down our coal-fired power plants, we’re not going to have that much of an effect,” Pearce said.
And, most agreed that the senators and representatives who cosponsor this bill, and the house bill do not represent most New Mexicans, and are just acting politically for their own benefit.
“Sadly, New Mexico’s senate delegation continues to demonstrate a pattern of not representing all of New Mexico and pandering to the interests of places like Santa Fe and San Francisco almost exclusively.,” McEntyre said.
“I believe Tom Udall is becoming very active to try to make a legacy — for him, not for our state,” Rich said.
“This legislation is clearly designed to end New Mexico’s largest and most successful industry at a time when we’re experiencing tremendous growth and seeing an economic rebound thanks to the oil and gas industry,” McEntyre added. “This seems to be a slap in the face to those workers in Hobbs, Carlsbad, Artesia and elsewhere who are making that happen.”