Environment Department mum on Clean Power Plan

Laura Paskus
New Mexico in Depth
San Juan County

Until earlier this year, states across the nation, including New Mexico, had been holding public meetings and planning to cut pollution from power plants. Taken as a whole, those plans were the Obama Administration’s most significant attempt, through the Clean Power Plan, or CPP, to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.

But in February, the Supreme Court stayed implementation of the CPP,pending the outcome of a lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unable to adhere to the original timeline for requiring states to complete their carbon-cutting plans or face implementation of a federal plan, Texas, Utah, and 18 others suspended work. Others like Colorado, California, Oregon, and many northeastern states continued planning.

Then, there’s New Mexico. Despite early pledges of transparency from Gov. Susana Martinez, officials within her administration — including New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn — won’t directly address climate change or say whether they're continuing to work on a state plan that complies with the CPP.

From first mention of the Clean Power Plan in 2014, New Mexico was already well-poised to achieve emissions cuts: The year before, the EPA, the state, and Public Service Company of New Mexico had hammered out an agreement to close two units of the San Juan Power Plant, a coal-fired plant near Farmington, by 2017.

To comply with Obama’s plan, the New Mexico Environment Department held eight initial public meetings in places such as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Gallup. The department also held separate meetings with energy industry representatives and environmental advocates.

According to the state's original timeline, in the fall of 2016, the state would have to either submit a draft plan or request a two-year extension from EPA. By the fall of 2018, New Mexico would have to submit a final plan.

Now, after the federal stay of the CPP, the Environment Department's communications director Allison Scott Majure would only say New Mexico remained “committed to taking meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gases by a projected 5.7 million tons by the end of 2017.”

Presumably, she was referring to the San Juan Generating Statio, though Majure would not clarify her emailed statement despite several follow-up requests for information by New Mexico in Depth.

The CPP identified 10 power plants statewide, including Reeves Generating Station, a 1950s-era natural gas plant in Albuquerque’s North Valley.

Although the city of Albuquerque was involved with the initial public meetings, Danny Nevarez, Environmental Health Deputy Director for the city’s Air Quality Program directed all questions to the Environment Department. He did confirm the city is not planning for further public meetings.

Looking outside the state for answers on New Mexico’s CPP process didn’t bear fruit, either. EPA officials deferred questions, saying they weren’t in a position to answer for the state or provide any information about the Environment Department’s activities.

But not all public officials went silent when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed implementation of the CPP.  Attorney General Hector Balderas joined a coalition of state AG’s supporting the Clean Power Plan when it was first unveiled last summer. Now, he continues to support it.

“We will continue to pursue the most affordable, cleanest energy available while protecting New Mexicans, our economy and our environment,” Balderas told New Mexico in Depth. “The Clean Power Plan will lead to significantly reduced emissions of climate changing air pollution