New Mexico Lawmakers Aim For Carbon-Free Energy By 2045 New Mexico lawmakers are set to pass what could be the country's most aggressive push for 100 percent clean energy. It's happening even as the state is in the middle of a record-setting oil boom.
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New Mexico Lawmakers Aim For Carbon-Free Energy By 2045

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New Mexico Lawmakers Aim For Carbon-Free Energy By 2045

New Mexico Lawmakers Aim For Carbon-Free Energy By 2045

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump's administration may be doubling down on fossil fuels but many states are not. Yesterday, lawmakers in an especially sunny state, New Mexico, approved a plan for rapid transition to renewable sources like solar and wind. The plan is considered even more ambitious than the ambitious plan in California. New Mexico may soon use a lot less fossil fuel. Although, New Mexico is still producing it. NPR's Nathan Rott reports.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: New Mexico has the only round-shaped state capital building in the country, which means it's always a bit hard to find a quiet corner. But that's especially true these days. The blue wave of last year's midterms swept over the Enchantment State. With Democrats taking control of the House, Senate and governor's office, they've set an ambitious legislative agenda that's bringing supporters and protesters of every type to Santa Fe.

And on this day, it's environmental advocates and coal workers - the latter still in their work uniforms - shuffling into a stuffy, overcrowded room for a hearing on the Energy Transition Act - a massive piece of legislation that would require the state use 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045. That means no more coal and no more natural gas in just 25 years.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK. Let's go ahead and get started here.

ROTT: Lucky for you, we can skip this hours-long hearing and just go straight to the source.

NATHAN SMALL: My name is Nathan Small. And I represent House District 36 in the New Mexico legislature.

ROTT: Small is from Las Cruces.

SMALL: Home to Hatch green chile.

ROTT: And he's one of the sponsors of the Energy Transition Act.

SMALL: We're going to end up with a renewable portfolio standard that is among the leaders or, perhaps, is the leader for the entire country.

ROTT: Which is striking because the state currently gets more than half of its electricity from coal - but that's changing.

SMALL: We have the No. 2 potential when it comes to solar resources.

ROTT: Nationwide.

SMALL: And we're told that it's No. 12 when it comes to wind.

MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: If there was ever a state that can transition to renewables and then get it on the market, it's us.

ROTT: New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.

LUJAN GRISHAM: And because California's following the same standard, they're going to need to look to states like New Mexico to sell them this energy.

ROTT: That's one of the economic reasons that Grisham is expected to sign the bill later this week. But it's far from the only one she gives.

LUJAN GRISHAM: This is a state that is not in climate denial. We are clear that we have, basically, a decade to begin to turn things around. And New Mexico needs and will do its part.

ROTT: The Energy Transition Act will cut in-state greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. But New Mexico's role in the global climate picture is a complicated one. Just look at the southeast corner of the state...

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ROTT: ...Where quiet, two-lane roads have become major thoroughfares with truck...

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK PASSING)

ROTT: ...After truck...

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK PASSING)

ROTT: ...After truck.

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ROTT: The cool desert nights are now punctuated with venting flares and the steady thrum of bobbing pumpjacks.

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ROTT: Southeast New Mexico is oil country. It's part of the Permian Basin, home to the largest continuous oil and gas pool ever assessed in the United States. And folks here will tell you at oilfield supply stores, like Robert Higgins' and Wally Lester's, that, sure, they've seen booms before and busts.

ROBERT HIGGINS: It just goes and comes, goes and comes.

WALLY LESTER: Not near like this, though...

HIGGINS: No.

LESTER: ...Not even close.

HIGGINS: Yeah.

ROTT: Would you say it's crazy?

HIGGINS: I would say it is crazy (laughter).

ROTT: All of this production has been a windfall for New Mexico. The state is looking at a billion-dollar budget surplus thanks to oil and gas revenues, money it's putting towards the state's struggling public schools and other needs. And there's a fear here that the legislation in Santa Fe, which some disparagingly call New Mexico's Green New Deal, will hurt that production.

LESTER: Killing the goose that lays the golden egg - trying to.

HIGGINS: Yeah, that's exactly right.

LESTER: You know?

ROTT: But the truth is, it won't. The Energy Transition Act will require New Mexico to power itself with renewables. Denise Fort, a retired environmental law professor from the University of New Mexico, points out, though, that nearly all of the oil and gas being pumped in the Permian is exported.

DENISE FORT: We really can't meet the greenhouse climate goals that we have to meet and develop all that oil and gas.

ROTT: Consuming all that oil and gas, she says, would essentially be a climate change game over.

FORT: What a dilemma because it isn't consumption from New Mexico that's going to make a difference. It's the export market at this time.

ROTT: But the option of stopping oil and gas development, keeping it in the ground, Fort says, isn't much of an option at all, at least not now. Much of the drilling is happening on federal land. And the state is dependent on oil and gas revenues. It's a dilemma, Fort says, that the entire U.S. could soon face.

More and more states are committing to renewable energy sources. But the U.S. is set to soon become the top oil exporter in the world, thanks, in large part, to the Permian. The irony of the situation is not lost on New Mexico's governor back at the state capital.

LUJAN GRISHAM: In this complex moment, we have to demonstrate that renewable energy is available, is redundant, is reliable and then that changes the debate about fossil fuel exports. But today we're not in that position.

ROTT: For now, Grisham says, she's going to work with oil and gas to limit greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully, she says, set an example for other states to follow. Nathan Rott, NPR News.

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