A New Mexico state environmental board on Monday began a week-long series of hearings on a proposed rule to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that could carry significant impact for the state's coal-fired electric generation plants and its sizable oil/natural gas industry. The board is looking at two approaches to addressing the limits.

New Mexico's Environmental Improvement Board has been urged by various environmental parties to adopt a new rule that would affect power plants, refiners, oil/gas processing and treatment plants and compressor stations -- facilities emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. The facilities would have to reduce GHG emissions 3% each year below 2010 levels, starting in 2012.

Critics of the proposal have warned the environmental board that the rule would hurt the state's already sagging economy. Advocates like the New Energy Economy (NEE) counter that the rule would be reexamined in 2014 to make sure it was accomplishing what it was intended to do.

The state's largest private-sector utility, PNM Resources' PNM electricity provider, contends that capping GHG emissions in the state will have no measurable impact on the national and global problem. The utility has argued that a limit on emissions would stymie the development of added natural gas-fired generation in the state when those plants are increasingly needed to balance the intermittency of increased reliability on wind and solar sources of power.

NEE's petition before the environmental board is supported by the Western Resource Advocates, which testified earlier in the year. In the current hearings, the Boulder, CO-based environmental law and policy nonprofit organization reiterated its support to have New Mexico begin to regulate GHG emissions.

Separately, the New Mexico Environmental Department has submitted its own proposal to the improvement board, advocating setting a limit and then instituting a cap-and-trade system. Five years ago Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the state to lower GHG and other associated emissions to meet 2000 levels by 2012 and to be 10% below 2000 levels in 2020 and 75% below 2000 levels by 2050.

In regard to the continuing concerns about the economic impact, New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories released a report earlier this year that indicated not addressing climate change and GHG emissions would have more harmful affects on the state's economy.

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