New state rules require electric cars at New Mexico dealerships, aim to cut air pollution

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Gas-powered cars and trucks could soon be a thing of the past in New Mexico as State regulators approved new standards intended to increase the availability of electric vehicles while growing supporting infrastructure like charging stations.

New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board voted Thursday to approve the proposal made by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), deliberating through two days from May 4 to 5.

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The board addressed concerns from opponents of the rulemaking, mostly within the automotive industry, along with hearing testimony from state leaders and environmentalists on the need for state policy to address climate change and pollution from the transportation sector.

NMED estimated the proposal as written would mean 3,800 more passenger cars without any tailpipe emissions, while removing 130,000 tons of greenhouse gases and 1,700 tons of ozone-forming air pollution in New Mexico by 2050.

“Tripling the number of zero-tailpipe emission cars and trucks in New Mexico from 1,800 in 2021 to 5,600 by full phase-in of the rule benefits the health of all New Mexicans, especially those overburdened communities that live near heavily used roadways,” said NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney.

“The increased availability of more efficient, used electric vehicles in the future will benefit low-income purchasers, who tend to spend a larger portion of their income on fuel.” 

More:ExxonMobil cuts methane pollution from fossil fuel operations in New Mexico

During Thursday’s second day of deliberations, Ken Ortiz, president of the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association said the industry was concerned about state mandates to increase the ratio of zero-emission vehicles sold at dealerships to 7 to 9 percent by 2026.

“Our dealerships are incredibly excited for the future of selling electric vehicles. We feel that imposing a mandate on New Mexico consumers is not the right approach,” Ortiz said. “Adopting these policies may limit choices and increase costs for New Mexicans.”

He said the transition to low- or zero-emission vehicles was imminent but should be allowed to occur based on market demand, not government mandates.

More:New Mexico's oil counties have some of the worst air pollution in state, study says

“New Mexicans should have a choice in what vehicles they purchase based on their specific needs. We agree that the ozone issue is real, but it should not be addressed through mandates,” Ortiz said. “Getting today’s cleaner, greener and safer vehicles into the hands of consumers is possible by letting the market do it naturally.”

New Mexico Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-38), who also serves as chief executive officer of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit in Las Cruces that promotes environmental businesses, said adopting the standards to increase electrical vehicle (EV) availability in New Mexico would provide a boost to the economy while reducing pollution.

“With clean car standards, we will have cleaner air for all hardworking New Mexicans while also paving the way for a robust used or low cost, low emission vehicle market,” Hamblen said. “I’m asking you to implement a rulemaking that will bring more clean, zero emission vehicles to New Mexico.”

More:Low oil production, big impact on air pollution come from New Mexico's 'stripper' wells

Hamblen said electric vehicles are largely available in major cities and high population areas and the new rules would expand their accessibility to New Mexico’s rural areas and low-income communities.

“New Mexico is a very rural state. The conversation on electric vehicles is often surrounding large cities and predominantly white communities,” Hamblen said. “Rural, low income and frontline communities suffer the harshest impacts of climate change.”

State Sen. Harold Pope (D-23) also supported the proposal, arguing it was needed action to mitigate climate and change and human health impacts of pollution in New Mexico.

More:Oil and gas air pollution controls approved by New Mexico officials, take effect in spring

He pointed to a devastating drought suffered throughout New Mexico in recent years, most recently leading to destructive wildfires in almost every region of the state.

“This could really reduce the emissions that are causing climate change but also the health impacts to our communities,” Pope said. “We’re seeing this everyday with extreme drought. We must act and do what we can, and I believe this is part of the plan we have that could really solve the climate crisis.”

Rural areas are often double-hit by air pollution from vehicles traveling long distances, and production of the fossil fuels burned by cars and trucks, Pope said.

More:Oil and gas' role in climate change highlighted in global report. How can New Mexico help?

This is why electrical vehicles and the needed infrastructure must be readily available, he said, in “front-line” communities where extraction occurs.

“Emissions are not just an issue in the urban areas, but also in the rural areas. Many times, this is where the extraction and the refining is occurring,” Pope said. “For these communities, we must make sure they have more access to EVs and for the charging infrastructure.”

Ruth Striegel, with New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, a group of faith leaders from around the state that advocate for environmental issues, said more electric cars means less greenhouse gas.

She said the State of New Mexico should step in to push for this transition and prevent further environmental damage.

“I’m very concerned about our poor air quality and how it impacts vulnerable people,” Striegel said. “Gas engine cars are bad for our health and terrible for our environment. We need to use all the tools available to us to stop putting greenhouse gas into the air.”

Fossil fuel industry advocates criticized the new rules as circumventing lawmakers to raise fuel costs for New Mexicans. 

"This rule could’ve gone through the legislature, but supporters would rather use backdoor tactics to force their agenda and hide the real cost to our families," said Larry Behrens, New Mexico-based spokesman for Power the Future. 

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.