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ALBUQUERQUE, (AP) — A regional official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday commended Gov. Bill Richardson and the New Mexico Environment Department for trying to establish a greenhouse gas emissions cap and trade program.
Dallas-based EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz sent a letter to the governor, praising the state for pushing forward to reduce emissions by 15 percent within 10 years, despite other parties questioning the necessity of curbing the pollution being blamed for climate change.
“With the electricity generating and oil and gas sectors so important in contributions to GHG emissions, as well as being important New Mexico industries, the state’s leadership in this particular rule-making is exemplary,” Armendariz wrote.
He also noted that the EPA has made action on climate change one of the agency’s top seven highest priorities and that New Mexico’s efforts are “a well-reasoned and fully participatory means of arriving at effective GHG mitigation.”
Armendariz’s letter gives the state a shot in the arm following a two-week hearing in which critics denounced the cap and trade proposal over concerns that it will cost New Mexico’s economy upward of $3.7 billion and force jobs to neighboring states while having little to no impact on a problem that is global in nature.
The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board heard on Wednesday and Thursday from economists and scientists called to testify by electric utilities, one of the industries challenging the proposal.
The board is considering the state’s proposal, as well as one from an environmental group that aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest polluters: coal-fired power plants and the oil and natural gas industry.
New Mexico’s power plants, refineries and other oil and gas operations pump about 24 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the air each year. The state wants to limit the emissions of those that emit 25,000 metric tons or more.
Jim Norton, director of New Mexico’s Environmental Protection Division, called it an honor to have support from the EPA at such a high level.
“The state is really trying to do its share to address climate change, just as I think EPA is trying to do its share lacking a federal bill,” he said.
State officials said 63 facilities would fall under the proposed rule, but that number could grow, as the environment department said it would eventually look to expand the scope of sources and emissions to account for industrial, commercial and residential buildings as well as transportation fuels.
Under the state’s current proposal, New Mexico would be able to participate in a regional cap-and-trade program with other Western states and Canadian provinces.
New Mexico would not implement the program unless there were sufficient greenhouse gas allowances to make trading efficient and cost-effective.
The proposal also includes a sunset provision if the federal government were to implement its own program.
Armendariz said in his letter that New Mexico’s proposed program may enable participating jurisdictions to link with other cap-and-trade programs in North America, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast.
Some critics of New Mexico’s plan have argued that the state should let the federal government take the lead on controlling greenhouse gases so regulations are consistent across state borders.
The board is expected to make a decision on the state’s proposal in early November.