More Lawsuits Against New Mexico for Undermining Climate Change Mitigation Plans

By DAVID CORREIA

Welcome to New Mexico, where the politics of climate change are more depressing than the science.

And that’s saying something because the science is pretty depressing. Led by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the research is clear. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide ( CO2 ), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are dramatically increased since the mid-eighteenth century. And the rate of increase is speeding up. Atmospheric levels of Greenhouse gases (GHGs) have increased dramatically in the last decade. This summer is the warmest on record, surpassing eleven of the twelve years between 1995 and 2006–years which rank among the 12 warmest ever recorded.

In the past century, global temperature has increased by 0.74°C while sea levels have risen by 17 cm.

And what are we doing about this disturbing pattern? Governor, and climate change denier, Susana Martinez, for one, has done nothing other than unravel years of efforts to address the problem and mitigate New Mexico’s contribution to GHG emissions.  Last Monday we reported on a current lawsuit in New Mexico district court in which 17-year old Akilah Sanders-Reed and Santa Fe’s WildEarth Guardians sued Governor Susana Martinez for failing in her fiduciary duty to protect the atmosphere and the social and environmental consequences of climate change.

Theirs is not the only climate change lawsuit working its way through New Mexico courts. Last week Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and New Energy Economy (NEE), two non-profit environmental organizations that originally pushed the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) to pass the two climate change rules examined in our last article, appealed the decision of the EIB to repeal Rule 100, one of two climate mitigation rules passed by the EIB prior to Martinez’s election. Read their complaint here.

Protestors picket PNM’s opposition to climate change mitigation plans. Photo by Emilio Rodriguez. Courtesy of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club

Rule 100 required that large sources of CO2 emissions—public utilities and refineries—either reduce or offset GHG emissions by 3 percent per year for ten years.

The EIB board adopted Rule 100 in December of 2010 after a two-year process.  PNM, El Paso Electric, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association and a number of other affected groups appealed the rule in early 2011.

After her election Governor Martinez gutted the EIB. Among her replacement appointees were Gregory Fulfer, a rancher from Jal, and James Casciano, a manager at Intel in Rio Rancho.  Prior to becoming members of Martinez’s board, both men had testified against Rule 100 during the public hearings. Given the events that WRA’s and NEE’s lawsuit describe, their opposition to climate change mitigation appears the very thing that qualified them to sit on Martinez’s EIB.

Martinez’s reconstituted board delighted the opponents of climate change recovery. The EIB quickly entered into a negotiated settlement with PNM and others that resulted in an administrative proceeding culminating in the repeal of Rule 100.

The suit by WRA and NEE is based on this back room deal. A rule two years in the making based on science and characterized by a democratic process of public fact-finding and open meetings was undone in a series of secret meetings in the span of a few weeks.

And it gets worse.

Activists stage climate’s “funeral” outside the roundhouse as a protest against the EIB, which inside was repealing Rule 100. Photo by Emilio Rodriguez. Courtesy of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club

The lawsuit draws on newly discovered documents that reveal it was not only Fulfer and Casciano who had conflicts of interest. Elizabeth Ryan, an attorney and member of Martinez’s EIB, works for Beatty & Wozniak, a law firm that represents oil and gas firms—firms represented by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA), one of the opponents of Rule 100 engaged in negotiations with the EIB for its repeal.

When she was appointed, Ryan listed her occupation as an attorney with the Roswell, New Mexico firm of Mark W. Taylor & Associates. While negotiating with the NMOGA to repeal Rule 100, however, Ryan was applying for a position with a firm that represents many of its members. She took the position and then voted to repeal the rule.

“We’ve been completely open-minded,” lied a straight-faced Ryan after the hearing in which she voted to repeal Rule 100.

Beatty & Wozniak quickly seized on Ryan’s double-dealing for the marketing opportunity it presented them. In sales materials circulated to potential oil and gas industry clients they bragged that “As a member of the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB), appointed by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, Beatty & Wozniak’s Elizabeth A. Ryan voted to repeal emission rules.”

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