The New Mexico Supreme Court has set a hearing for next Wednesday to see if the state’s new governor can block a cap-and-trade provision affecting oil/gas operations and power generation. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center filed earlier this month with the state’s highest court, contending that Gov. Susana Martinez violated proper legal protocol in attempting to block a new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rule.

The new rules would force all oil/gas operators and electric generators to limit their GHG emissions to 25,000 metric tons annually to cut carbon emissions 3% annually, starting in 2013.

Also aimed at the director of the state environmental department and the state records administrator, the lawsuit challenges Martinez’s attempt to block the printing of the new GHG standard in the State Register. An executive order of the governor upon taking office Jan. 1 called for suspending any pending or proposed regulations, and Martinez is treating the GHG provisions as “pending,” something the law center contends is not accurate.

New Mexico’s GHG emissions cap is not “pending or proposed,” said Bruce Frederick, a staff attorney at the law center. He argued that the now disbanded Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) established the rule, so it is part of the state laws. “The governor and her staff cannot disregard the law.”

Nevertheless, shortly after taking office and mirroring the increased backlash in Washington, DC, and across the nation, Martinez dismantled the EIB, which was associated with the state’s push to enter a regional cap-and-trade program for GHG emissions. Martinez contends that they are hurting the state’s struggling economy.

Martinez fired all the EIB members and gave them a tongue lashing in statements to local news media. The action came days after Martinez didn’t mention energy or the environment in an inaugural speech Jan. 1 that talked about reining in waste and corruption in government and rebuilding trust with New Mexico’s citizens.

Saying the EIB was fostering an “anti-business environment” in the state, Martinez sent each board member a letter telling them they were dismissed, but could reapply for their old positions and their reemployment would be considered on a case-by-case basis. “Most of the EIB members have made it clear that they are more interested in advancing political ideology than implementing common sense policies that balance economic growth with responsible stewardship in New Mexico,” she said.

On her first day on the job, Martinez halted “all proposed and pending regulations,” which she contends includes cap-and-trade. She intends for the new EIB members she will appoint to rescind the rules, but before they will be able to do that, opponents point out that the new board will have to hold new public hearings and allow public comment. “There is an established public process when proposing a new regulation or when removing an old regulation,” Frederick said.

Last fall the EIB approved a cap-and-trade program based on the Western Climate Initiative and a cap on GHG emissions, based on a proposal from an environmental group, New Energy Economy (NEE). Lawyers for NEE filed the lawsuit Jan. 11, arguing that the new governor lacks the power to prevent the group from publishing its carbon-reduction plan in the State Register.

Major energy providers, such as PNM Resources and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, have challenged New Mexico’s cap-and-trade proposals in court.

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