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SANTA FE — There was no shortage of grim economic and environmental predictions as a New Mexico environmental regulatory board heard Monday from dozens of people on both sides of a proposal that seeks a greenhouse gas emissions cap in the state.
The Environmental Improvement Board was petitioned by an environmental group, New Energy Economy, to establish a cap. The group advocates for reductions of 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Renewable energy advocates, social justice activists, environmentalists and physicians voiced their support.
“I have treated too many babies and children and adults who were gasping for air because of asthma and other respiratory diseases that were caused or worsened by pollutants that could be eliminated or decreased with existing technologies,” Dr. Bruce Trigg told the board.
Joan Brown, a Franciscan sister and director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, called the proposed cap an “ethical and moral” responsibility.
“Cutting emissions is one of those huge decisions we need to face,” she said.
Besides fueling the global warming debate in New Mexico, New Energy Economy’s petition has sparked concern among business leaders and others over what role regulators should play in addressing a problem that transcends state boundaries.
New Energy Economy maintains that the Environmental Improvement Board, an unelected body appointed by the governor, has authority under existing law to implement statewide limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
Industry groups, some state lawmakers and others disagree. More than a dozen opponents have filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s authority.
Paul Gessing, president of the research group Rio Grande Foundation, blasted the board about its ability to be impartial.
Gessing pointed out that board chairman Gregory Green is a registered lobbyist with the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, one of the groups that unsuccessfully sought expanded rule-making powers related to greenhouse gas emissions for the board during the recent 30-day legislative session.
Sen. David Ulibarri, D-Grants, said lawmakers are having a difficult time balancing the state budget and a cap on greenhouse gas emissions would be a “potential disaster” for New Mexico’s economy.
Supporters of the petition argued that failure to impose a cap could lead to higher health and environmental costs. They vilified New Mexico’s coal-fired power plants, oil and natural gas developers and dairy operators as polluters, and pleaded with board members to approve a cap.