Emissions program hearing set for Thursday

Kevin Wilson

Clovis is one of five stops on the state Environmental Improvement Board’s schedule to discuss a greenhouse gas emissions program.

The hearing is 2 p.m. Thursday at the Clovis Civic Center, and is scheduled to last six hours.

“This is a formal public hearing on two proposals to address climate change in New Mexico,” said Jim Norton, a spokesman for the New Mexico Environment Department. “The first proposal is by the New Energy Economy. The second is by the state environment department.”

Both proposals are cap and trade programs. Such a program imposes a cap on emissions, and each company is given a number of tons of emissions allowed. A company that releases less than its emission allowance is permitted to sell the allowance on the open market.

As a program continues, the cap shrinks, and the market would make the allowances costlier, giving companies incentive to cut pollution. Power companies can take advantage with shifts toward renewable energy, Norton said.

Curry County rancher Hoyt Pattison attended an Aug. 26 open house the agency held in Clovis and thought it was a propaganda session paid for with money the state doesn’t have.

Pattison doesn’t think cap and trade will work in execution, reasoning that power companies will choose to buy up allowances, and simply pass the cost on to consumers.

“The danger of it,” Pattison said, “is it’s going to end up costing everybody in higher electricity prices.”

A fact sheet from the state energy department said allowances would be given without charge in 2012, but there will be a requirement of a 2 percent annual emissions deduction for eight years. The NEE proposal, Norton said, would call for 3 percent reductions.

“It’s a slow phase-in process,” Norton said. “In 2012, nobody has to reduce, and then it slowly phases in until 2020. We don’t think there’s an economic effect at all. Companies will have plenty of time to do the planning they need.”

The NEE proposal would apply only to New Mexico, Norton said, while the state environment department’s plan would join the state with the Western Climate Initiative — a collaboration of 11 U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

New Energy Economy initially petitioned state regulators in December 2008 to impose a cap that would affect any business that emitted more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon emissions per year.

A revamped proposal submitted in March specified a phased-in program that would include only electricity generators and businesses in the oil and gas industry that emit more than 25,000 metric tons per year. It sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from those sources by 3 percent each year from levels set in 2010.

“This would not apply to farms and ranchers,” Norton said. “It would only apply to the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States.”

The EIB began to gather expert testimony and public comments related to the proposals, but stopped after an injunction by a Lovington court. That decision was overturned in June in the state supreme court, allowing the public process to go forward.

“I’m glad they’re having it,” Pattison said. “I hope they take the testimony seriously.”

He is concerned that the EIB has already reached its conclusions, but is confident a change of gubernatorial administrations could remove anything that is put into place.