NM Climate Change Task Force confirmed by State Senate, energy industry cuts emissions

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Two of the cabinet secretaries at the top of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda in addressing climate change were confirmed by the New Mexico Senate, and will lead the State’s Climate Change Task Force.

The Task Force was created in late January, at the start of the ongoing 60-day legislative session, by an executive order issued by Lujan Grisham.

Cabinet Secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Sarah Cottrell Propst was confirmed on Feb. 15, and Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department James Kenney’s confirmation was announced Monday.

The two are the main agencies that permit and monitor oil and gas developments, now tasked with devising policy to protect the environment amid New Mexico’s recent boom in oil and gas.

More:What's in New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham's executive order on climate change?

New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney (right) speaks with Jack Volpato (left) and members of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, Jan. 28, 2019 in Santa Fe.

Kenney previously served as senior policy adviser on oil and gas at the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where he worked for 20 years.

He worked closely with states, tribes, federal agencies and industry to develop “environmentally responsible” policies, read a news release, leading investigations into the Clean Act, the Clean Water Act and other EPA regulations.

“I am honored the governor and New Mexico Legislature have put their trust in me to lead NMED,” Kenney said. “It was science, innovation, collaboration and compliance that served me well at the EPA and I am confident they will serve me well here at the New Mexico Environment Department.”

More:NMED: Environment must be guarded during oil boom in Carlsbad area

Kenney’s initial responsibilities will involve working to reduce methane emissions, read the release, as per the objectives prescribed for the Task Force, while also addressing groundwater contamination at Air Force bases throughout New Mexico.

An environmental engineer by trade, he said he plans to “use science to tackle some of New Mexico’s toughest environmental challenges,” while enforcing State regulations.

"I'm thrilled Secretary Kenney is officially on board,” Lujan Grisham said. "Already, he's proven himself a diligent, conscientious and whip-smart leader, and I know NMED will be in the best possible hands."

Newly-appointed Cabinet Secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Sarah Cottrell Propst meets with Carlsbad leaders, Jan. 28, 2019 in Santa Fe.

Lujan Grisham said Cottrell Propst is a “natural leader” and expert on energy and environmental policy, who will be a leader in transitioning the state away from carbon-emitting electricity and reliance on fossil fuels.

“She is taking our state energy in a new direction and I am excited about the creative policy solutions she will bring to protect our environment and implement a clean energy agenda,” Lujan Grisham said.

More:Bat brigade: Staffing problems plague State regulators in oil boom

Through such an agenda, Cottrell Propst said New Mexico could become a national leader in addressing climate change and embracing renewable energy.

EMNRD will focus on leading the Task Force alongside NMED, and Cottrell Propst will focus on developing and expanding the State’s renewable energy portfolio, while establishing healthy watershed and forest programs, modernizing state parks and securing federal grand funding to protect and reclaim mines throughout New Mexico.

Candidate for New Mexico governor  Michelle Lujan Grisham addresses voters during a campaign stop, Aug. 29, 2018 in Carlsbad.

Cottrell Propst served as executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance from 2012 to 2018, a non-profit trade group representing companies in the renewable energy industry.

She also served as deputy cabinet secretary at NMED, and as environmental policy adviser to former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

“I am humbled that Governor Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Senate have confidence in my experience,” Cottrell Propst said. “I lead a strong team and together we will become the national model for an energy and natural resource agency with deep policy expertise, transparent processes, and a mission that balances conservation and development.”

More:Could New Mexico be carbon-free by 2045?

Exploring climate change agenda

Aside from establishing the Climate Change Task Force, Lujan Grisham’s Jan. 29 executive order aligned New Mexico with the Paris Climate Agreement and vowed to cut air pollution by 45 percent less than 2005 level in 12 years.

Ryan Flynn, executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said the industry is already working to reduce emissions and subsequent pollution.

He said market-driven solutions are ideal, against increasing government regulations.

More:Oil and gas industry touts emissions declines in New Mexico basins

Ryan Flynn.

“Absent any new regulation, oil and natural gas producers are leading the way in decreasing methane emissions,” Flynn said. “Falling methane emissions prove that we can increase production and protect the environment at the same time – it doesn’t have to be a choice."

Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed emissions from the southeastern Permian and northwestern San Juan basins – New Mexico's biggest – declined between 2016 and 2017.

The Permian saw a reduction of 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), from 8.4 million metric tons in 2016, to 8.3 million in 2017.

The San Juan declined by about 727,750 metric tons CO2e, down from about 5.4 million in 2016 to 4.6 million in 2017.

Recently, Xcel Energy announced it planned to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent in 2030 and go completely carbon-free by 2050.

More:Wind farms coming to southeast NM, Texas; Xcel supports governor's green energy agenda

Meanwhile, Dominion Energy, another energy provider in the region, announced its agenda of cutting methane emissions by 50 percent by 2030 at its natural gas infrastructure – based on 2010 levels.

This chart shows reported methane emissions declines in the San Juan and Permian basins.

That initiative will stop more than 430,000 metric tons of methane from entering the atmosphere, read a Dominion Energy news release, the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars of the road or planting about 180 million new trees.

The company already reduced carbon emission in its electric fleet by 50 percent since 2000, read the release while making “significant” advances in renewable energy.

More:Could New Mexico go solar? Bill provides tax relief for those giving it a shot

"We recognize we need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to further combat climate change," said Diane Leopold, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dominion Energy's Gas Infrastructure Group.

"We've made significant progress, but we're determined to go much further. With this initiative, we are transforming the way we do business to build a more sustainable future for the planet, our customers, and our industry."

More news from Santa Fe:

Cave at your own risk: NM state law releases landowners from liability

State Rep. Cathrynn Brown to prioritize 'urgent' road projects in New Mexico House bill

State Land Office: More transparency, higher royalties on New Mexico oil and gas

Proposed fracking ban called 'devastating' by industry, Carlsbad leaders

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