Task force will produce climate strategy document by Sept. 15

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FARMINGTON — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order today committing New Mexico to sharply reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

The order, which brings New Mexico into the U.S. Climate Alliance, calls for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The executive order creates a Climate Change Task Force, which will produce a New Mexico Climate Strategy document by Sept. 15.

U.S. Climate Alliance executive director Julie Cerqueira welcomed Lujan Grisham’s announcement. The first directive in the executive order states New Mexico will join the organization, which is a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to addressing climate change. It was created in 2017 in response to President Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations' Paris Agreement.

“Governor Lujan Grisham has set out a bold climate and energy agenda for New Mexico,” Cerqueira said in a statement emailed to The Daily Times. “Alliance states continue to demonstrate that climate action and economic growth go hand in hand, and we look forward to supporting her vision to make New Mexico a global clean energy leader.”

Lujan Grisham’s administration will be pushing for more stringent methane regulations in the state, as well as increased renewable portfolio standards for electric utilities.

Lujan Grisham is the 19th governor to commit to the U.S. Climate Alliance. Her executive order came about a week after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced plans to join the alliance.

In addition to calling for reduced emissions, Lujan Grisham’s order directs state agencies to create policies encouraging the use of clean energy and promoting the mitigation of climate change.

“The Governor’s bold new order is a commitment that New Mexico will rise to meet the climate challenge,” said Fred Krupp, the president of advocacy group the Environmental Defense Fund, in a statement released after the ceremony. “Getting enforceable, pollution-reducing policies on the books will help protect the lungs and the livelihood of New Mexicans who deserve clean air and a stable environment.”

Executive order calls for development of methane emission regulations

The executive order calls for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the New Mexico Environment Department to develop methane emission regulations for the oil and natural gas sectors. The order directs the departments to enact those rules as soon as practicable.

The Four Corners region drew attention in 2014 when a methane hot spot was discovered.

“We’re sitting underneath a methane cloud that’s the size of Delaware, and we have to take steps to fix it,” Aztec Mayor Victor Snover said when reached by phone today. Snover was among those who attended the signing ceremony for the executive order.

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre said operators in the San Juan Basin already have taken steps to fix the methane emissions problem.

One of the major causes of methane emissions is natural gas production. Jon Goldstein, regulatory and legislative affairs director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said one of the primary causes is leaks from the natural gas field equipment.

“I think the industry can operate in a way that is cleaner,” Goldstein said.

He cited Colorado's adoption of a rule in 2014 that led to decreased emissions and fewer leaks. Goldstein said the industry continues to be robust in Colorado.

McEntyre said the implementation of newer and more advanced technology in the San Juan Basin has led to nearly a 50 percent reduction in methane emissions between 2011 and 2016. That technology includes monitors on equipment that can alert operators to changes in pressure, which could signal a leak.

“We share the governor’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, as it pertains to our industry, reducing methane emissions,” McEntyre said.

He said it is encouraging that Lujan Grisham has signaled she wants the oil and natural gas industry to have a seat at the table while policies are being created to reduce emissions.

“The impacts to industry will ultimately be determined by policy,” he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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