New Mexico needs to make sure its blue skies are free of pollution — setting standards to protect the health of all who live here. Gorgeous views in all parts of the state are beside the point if people are breathing air that makes them sick.

In September, the state Environmental Improvement Board will begin a hearing to consider the state Environment Department’s proposed oil and gas air pollution rules, a complement to methane emission standards adopted last May.

The new rules will regulate emissions of volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen that combine to create ground-level ozone, or smog. Despite outrage from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, state leaders must stand firm to reduce such pollution.

The hearing begins Monday, with a vote expected in February and rules anticipated to take effect in March.

Tough rules are something residents should expect from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has made fighting climate change a cornerstone of her administration.

To meet the moment, the proposed rules need to protect those living closest to energy industry activity by requiring more frequent inspections to find and fix leaks, as well as to ensure operators control pollution when completing a new oil and gas well or refurbishing an old one. The state also can require operators to reduce pollution from super-emitter sources, such as pneumatic controllers used in oil and gas production.

In the past, the industry has successfully asked for exemptions for small operators or relied on self-regulation — proclaiming tough standards would damage oil and gas production and hurt state tax revenues. That refrain has lost its ability to persuade.

At the same time, pollution from the oil and gas industry does not recognize state lines. Drilling in Texas can put people living in Southern New Mexico at risk of serious health complications. That’s why new rules under consideration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are so important. Scheduled for release later this month, these rules must include provisions to detect leaks, repair them and address routine flaring to reduce emissions.

Five counties in New Mexico — Eddy, Lea, San Juan, Rio Arriba and Chaves — are home to 97 percent of the state’s oil and gas wells. It’s little surprise these counties are at risk of violating federal ozone standards.

Eddy, Lea and Chaves are in the Permian Basin, which stretches across parts of New Mexico and Texas and potentially is one of the greatest methane gas emitters in the nation. We also know the methane cloud over the San Juan Basin is vast enough to be seen from space. That’s why national standards are necessary. New Mexico can’t do it alone.

Science has shown methane — a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide — is one of the leading contributors to climate change. In the U.S., the largest industrial source of methane pollution is oil and gas production, with the industry releasing 16 million metric tons a year. That figure is increasing. New Mexico is home to some of the worst methane pollution in the country, with oil and gas producers releasing 1.1 million metric tons of methane because of venting, flaring and leaks.

The U.S. must stick to the goal of reducing methane pollution by 65 percent below 2012 levels over the next four years, using provisions of the Clean Air Act already in place. This will help the the nation fulfill its commitments under the Paris climate accord and ensure global temperatures do not increase at a rate that imperils the future.

To reach this goal, New Mexico and the federal government must both act to reduce oil and gas pollution. National rules, combined with tough but fair state rules, will make certain our skies are as clean as they look while protecting the planet we call home.

(8) comments

Dennis McQuillan

Promulgation of tough but fair air-quality rules is a meaningful step forward to protect the health of people in New Mexico and to restore America’s position as a global leader in environmental protection.

Ozone significantly contributes to the 4.2 million premature deaths caused by outdoor air pollution worldwide each year. New Mexico’s proposal, if adopted, will reduce illness and death caused by ozone pollution. The proposed rules also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and set a good example for other societies on this planet to participate in global efforts to combat increasingly dangerous climate change.

What can New Mexico citizens do? Monitor air quality where you live,, and support Governor Lujan Grisham and the state Environment Department in their efforts to protect public health and the environment.

Mike Johnson

"The proposed rules also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and set a good example for other societies on this planet to participate in global efforts to combat increasingly dangerous climate change." Ah yes, the mighty, powerful, industrial giant New Mexico (also last in the US in most all things), could lead the way for the planet with such "role modeling" (aka virtue signaling since NM is a drop in the ocean of any planetary pollution). Maybe MLG should travel to China and "convince" them.......

Dennis McQuillan

Actually, New Mexico has a history of pioneering laws and regulations to protect natural resources and public health that dates back to 1905. The current state administration is carrying on this tradition.

Mike Johnson

Indeed? And so all that effort and excellence over time has resulted in what first place ranking for NM in what US metric?

Dennis McQuillan

Here are just a few examples for you, Mike.

1905 – First state, actually NM was a territory then, to enact legislation addressing groundwater depletion; well permits and monitoring of wellhead pressure required for the Roswell artesian aquifer.

1947 – NM Legislature enacted Sanitary Projects Act, greatly improving safety of drinking water and wastewater systems, one year before federal Water Pollution Control Act was passed.

1967 – First state to pass a comprehensive Water Quality Act that authorized groundwater quality standards and a permitting program; first regulations adopted in 1977 used as a national model.

1993 – NM and federal investigation identified previously unknown Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome with 50% mortality rate; further investigation reveals connection with increased deer mice population and wet winter/spring following several years of drought; disease was already known in historical Navajo medical traditions.

1977, 1981, 1985, 1994, 2004, 2018 – NM first, and among the first, to adopt standards for toxic pollutants in water that are not included in federal standards.

Mike Johnson

I see, so none of this made any difference in how poor NM is in any metric in the US, as I thought. You would have saved much effort to just say that and answer the question instead of trying to change the subject by citing things that don't matter to look intelligent.

Mike Johnson

Interesting the only focus for methane emissions is the petroleum industry. According to a NM legislative study, 40% of methane emissions in the state are from agricultural processes. Indeed, the US EPA reports this: "When livestock and manure emissions are combined, the Agriculture sector is the largest source of CH4 emissions in the United States." But, of course the only thing the left wing care about is getting rid of the petroleum industry, even if it requires not following the science and allowing other big polluters a free ride, typical left wing politics.

Charlotte Rowe

I agree we need to zero out our own harmful pollutants in NM but the horrible haze we are seeing right now is largely from climate-change-driven wildfires to the west of us, over which have no control.

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