By: Adrian Hedden – Carlsbad Current Argus – As gas production ramps up again New Mexico’s Democrat leaders in Congress urged the federal administration to adopt methane emission restrictions like those recently enacted by the State of New Mexico.
Earlier this year, Congress voted to reverse a decision under the administration of former President Donald Trump that limited the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate methane from fossil fuel operations.
That measure was signed into law by President Joe Biden and sponsored by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich who argued tougher regulations were needed to mitigate pollution from the industry and its impact on climate change.
And on Tuesday, Heinrich was joined by U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and New Mexico’s Democrat U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernandez and Melanie Stansbury are penning a letter to the EPA asking the federal government to use its restored authority to further tighten restrictions on methane releases from the oil and gas sector.
They touted new methane rules enacted by New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMRND), arguing federal regulations should be developed so as not to undercut the state-level policy.
The congresspeople pointed to clauses in New Mexico’s new rules that require frequent leak detection and repairs, including monthly inspections and certain sites, along with ensuring the rules apply to all wells regardless of size.
New Mexico’s rules also prohibit routine flaring, or the burning of excess natural gas, and mandated operators in the state capture 98 percent of produced gas by 2026.
“New Mexico is a major oil and gas producing state, yet has worked to develop strong new state rules,” the delegation wrote. “We urge you to propose strong new methane rules for oil and gas operations that draw upon the leadership of states like New Mexico and look forward to working with you to promote healthier communities and a better climate.”
They argued tougher rules were needed as climate change and its impacts worsen throughout the U.S. and that the measure to rescind Trump’s rollback of EPA authority constituted a directive for the federal agency to enact additional regulations.
“After four years of going backward, we are encouraged by the Environmental Protection Agency’s quick start to the process of improving on those rules under its Clean Air Act authority and obligation,” the letter read.
“The climate crisis requires that we act as quickly and effectively as possible, and Congress clearly gave EPA the directive to create new, stronger methane protections.”
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham touted the EMRND’s rules when they were first proposed last year as “nation-leading” policy that would address the impacts of pollution from one of the state’s biggest economic drivers.
The rulemakings were in response to an executive order issued in 2019 by Lujan Grisham calling on state agencies to develop policy to address emissions, and a separate rulemaking was underway by the New Mexico Environment Department to limit emissions of ozone precursors from oil and gas facilities.
As Biden took office, Lujan Grisham said the State hoped to collaborate with the federal administration in devising stronger pollution controls from the fossil fuel sectors, after Biden imposed a temporary pause on new oil and gas leases of federal land and the Department of the Interior embarked on a full review of its oil and gas program.
“It is essential that climate change be prioritized,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement “In the interest of developing a new, more sustainable federal-and-state climate policy that is so urgently needed to protect our planet, a review of all climate-related policies, including energy policies, will ensure we do this right – across the country and here in New Mexico.”
But despite some support from Democrats in Washington, D.C., New Mexico’s lone Republican in Congress U.S. Rep Yvette Herrell said added regulations could stymie the growth of one of the U.S.’ most powerful industries.
She said policymakers should support oil and gas producers to develop their own methods of limiting pollution without overly burdensome government actions.
“The U.S. leads the world in reducing emissions, and American energy is cleaner and cheaper than anywhere else,” Herrell said. “Democrats are trying to nickel and dime New Mexico’s most important industry to death.”
Herrell said policy from the past President, rolling back environmental regulations and opening up more public lands to drilling, created a powerful boon for the U.S. economy that should be considered if new rules are enacted.
“President Trump’s energy policy created thousands of jobs, billions in revenue, and allowed New Mexico to lead the way in his energy dominance agenda,” she said. “We should be encouraging innovations and empowering our producers to supply the rest of the world with NM-produced energy.”
Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics, and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute said the industry should have input on any new policy at the state or federal level to ensure oil and gas can continue to be produced effectively while addressing environmental concerns.
“We have specific policies that we think the government should take including reduced carbon or zero carbon emission technologies,” he said during a recent press call.
“It really is not an either-or approach. Finding solutions to these challenges lay at the federal level, state and local and in the private market place.”