This week, the Western Governors’ Association is discussing wildfire solutions at its annual winter meeting, which couldn’t be timelier.
Wildfires broke records and wreaked havoc across the West this year, and we can be sure the effects — economic, environmental and otherwise — will be felt long after containment.
Some of the causes and effects of climate change are easy to forget about, because they’re invisible to the naked eye (take New Mexico’s methane problem, for example), but the West’s catastrophic wildfires are one climate change indicator that’s increasingly impossible to ignore.
The three largest fires in state history occurred this year in Colorado, as did the second largest in Utah’s history. New Mexico, by comparison, had an average fire season compared to our northern neighbors, but it still battled hundreds of blazes on federal lands and suffered haze and poor air quality from fires in neighboring states.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has set and made great strides toward ambitious and commendable climate goals, including a 45 percent emissions reduction for 2030. Still, if we hope to reach that target, we’ve got to step up and meaningfully regulate one of our state’s most ubiquitous and harmful climate change pollutants: methane.
Over the past year, New Mexico state agencies have been working on draft rules that would limit waste and pollution from oil and gas operations, including methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that’s responsible for 25 percent of today’s global warming. But as it stands, the New Mexico Environment Department’s draft rules include loopholes that would exempt up to 95 percent of wells in New Mexico from the regulations.
Lujan Grisham promised nationally leading rules to reduce emissions from oil and gas activity. To keep that promise, the state needs to remove those loopholes and create stronger draft rules.
Otherwise, we will increasingly see the effects of climate change in our New Mexico communities and across the West in the form of droughts, extreme heat, floods and, of course, more devastating wildfire seasons like this one.
As a local elected official in New Mexico, I am so appreciative of Lujan Grisham’s efforts to date to address the climate crisis, and I urge her office and state leadership not to hold back when it comes to regulating one of our biggest climate change contributors. It’s time for swift action to protect our communities, our public health and our environment for generations to come.