Republican state lawmakers led opposition against new oil and gas air pollution regulations as New Mexico entered a week-long awaited hearing on the new rules aimed at restricting emissions.
The New Mexico Department of the Environment (NMED) has proposed new rules that would require more frequent detection and reporting of leaks at state oil and gas facilities to reduce ground-level ozone pollution .
The oil and gas sector has been viewed by NMED as a major contributor of precursors or chemicals that form ozone such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrous oxide (NOx).
Over the past two years, NMED has participated in public hearings and meetings of its Methane Advisory Group (MAP) to develop the rules recently presented for vote approval, perhaps this week, by the Environmental Improvement Board (EIB).
The EIB’s multi-day hearing began on Monday, with each day’s proceedings being posted on the commission’s YouTube account.
Even after input from industry, environmental groups and other stakeholders, the New Mexico Republican Caucus, made up of a group of House officials and senators, wrote a letter to NMED on Friday, making argue that the rules as they stand must be changed to reduce the economic burden that the signatories feared would be placed on oil and gas producers.
The letter referred to a study by John Dunham and Associates commissioned by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) that estimated the proposed regulations could cost state and local governments up to $ 730 million.
A previous letter from the bipartisan Legislative Finance Committee expressed similar concerns, also referring to the NMOGA study.
New Mexico Senator Gay Kernan (D-42), who represents Eddy and Lea counties in the oil-rich Permian Basin region, said the NMED proposal as drafted could cost thousands of jobs and disrupting one of the state’s main economic engines – oil and gas.
âIt’s not just about the potential loss of thousands of jobs, it’s about the dangerous ripple effect of crippling an economic force driving our state’s economy,â Kernan said. âWe all want to move our state forward, but I’m afraid this excessive rule will do a lot more harm than good. “
The NMED estimated that the rules, which would apply specifically to counties known to have ozone levels above the NAAQS limit of 70 parts per billion (ppb), would reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector by about 260 million. pounds per year.
NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney argued that the NMOGA study was “deeply flawed” and only represented the interests of the “regulated community.”
“Given the process and considerations outlined above, Council will not rely on a single deeply flawed economic study conducted and paid for by the regulated community, and I ask the Legislative Finance Committee not to either. “Kenney said in a statement. study.
But environmental groups in New Mexico have claimed the state is still not doing enough to tackle air pollution from mining as oil and gas operations continue to generate ozone precursors, they said. , in areas already known to exceed federal air quality standards.
WildEarth Guardians announced Monday that it is asking the US Environmental Protection Agency to sanction NMED and force it to shut down “dozens” of infringing oil and gas facilities.
The Santa Fe-based group claimed that federal air quality law already required “big polluters” to engage in tighter emissions monitoring and prevention, and that WildEarth Guardians found that nearly two dozen such facilities were operating in the Permian Basin of New Mexico without such arrangements. .
âThere’s no other way to put it, the oil and gas industry is getting a free pass to pollute in New Mexico,â said Jeremy Nichols, director of the climate and energy program for WildEarth Guardians.
“Despite promises to deal with industry pollution, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and her administration continue to let businesses operate illegally and defy basic air quality laws designed to protect people and residents. communities. “
Nichols said that alongside the new regulations, NMED must either strengthen its enforcement of current laws or be stripped of its authority by the EPA.
“We desperately need the Environmental Protection Agency to step in and end this dangerous dereliction of duty,” he said. âThe new clean air rules are a positive step forward, but if the Environment Department continues to let oil and gas companies continue to illegally pollute, they will not be worth the paper they are written on.
“The lack of proper regulations is part of the problem, but the Ministry of the Environment must also start monitoring and enforcing the rules already in place.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.