New Mexico residents have closely experienced the effects of climate change, especially this year, and many are still recovering from recent environmental fallout.
New Mexicans are looking for a gubernatorial candidate who will address critical environmental issues at hand including looming threats of wildfires, energy conservation and water scarcity. Before heading to the polls, it’s important to understand how each candidate plans to deal with prominent environmental conditions of the Southwest.
Stanford scientists say that in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, it is essential to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030, and 100% by 2050.
On Aug. 12, 2022, the U.S House of Representatives passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a historical and multifaceted piece of legislation that promotes aggressive action to combat the climate crisis and reduce the social cost of climate change. Progressive legislation like the IRA, which is aimed at mitigating the negative effects of climate change, is a high priority for most Democratic incumbents.
The coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Waterflow, New Mexico, ceased operations in September 2022 after 50 years of serving the Public Service Company of New Mexico. In the 2022 New Mexico gubernatorial debate between Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti, moderator Bob Clark said the closure of the San Juan Generating Station was caused by the Energy Transition Act of 2019, which was signed by Gov. Lujan-Grisham. Clark also reported that Public Service Company of New Mexico officials said they will not have enough energy to meet demand in the summers of 2023 and 2024, and that these shortages “will likely lead to rolling blackouts.”
Lujan Grisham denied Clark’s claim, saying the closure “was going to happen well before the Energy Transition Act.” To explain the closure of the San Juan Generating Station, Lujan-Grisham added, “There is no money in coal and as a result, the private sector makes these decisions.”
Lujan Grisham says there will in fact be enough renewable energy to meet New Mexico’s energy needs and promises to “set bold statewide renewable energy standards” if re-elected. In the same debate she also mentioned her plan to propose a “2050 net-zero design,” which would take the Energy Transition Act a step further. Lujan-Grisham called it a plan “not just for utilities, but for every sector in the state.”
If Lujan Grisham holds her position as governor, New Mexicans can expect her to continue investing in clean energy, green manufacturing and mass transportation in order to reduce the carbon footprint in New Mexico.
Mark Ronchetti, the Republican challenger for governor, disagrees with The Energy Transition Act as he claims it is bad for the economy. He promises to take an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy, which means keeping the San Juan Generating Station open. Like Bob Clark, Ronchetti blames the Energy Transition Act for the closure of the San Juan Generating Station and often refers to the act as “California energy policy.”
According to Pew Research published in October 2019, the majority of the American people, including 39% of Republicans, say the government is not doing enough to protect the environment.
Ronchetti acknowledged during the debate that “climate change is something we need to deal with,” but said it must be done without “crushing our energy sector.” Ronchetti also said “it is possible and necessary to both develop our energy resources and protect our environment.”
While a significant percentage of Republican voters say the federal government is doing too little to address climate change, the vast majority of Republicans say environmental protection is a lower-priority issue. Moreover, most do not believe that human activity strongly contributes to climate change, according to Pew Research Center findings.
Accordingly, if the GOP wins majority control of Congress next week, President Joe Biden’s clean energy agenda is at risk.
Sen. John Borasso, R-Wyo., a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and potential leader of the committee, issued a statement last month accusing President Joe Biden of abusing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to improve his approval rating. Borasso also issued a 20-page report in May 2021 that examines what he referred to as “failed green energy stimulus policies of the Obama administration and the policy priorities of the Biden administration.”
In response to Republican office holders like Borasso who seek to reverse clean energy initiatives, Democrats are determined to maintain majority control of Congress. Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., who sits on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis , said in a Nov. 3 interview that “the stakes are tremendous” and acknowledged that it was going to be a “tough fight” to keep the majority.
“If Kevin McCarthy is the speaker of the House, I think one of the first things that he would do is dismantle the select committee on climate altogether because too many in their party don’t even accept basic science,” Levin said.
Rising temperatures and persistent droughts resulted in New Mexico’s most intense wildfire season in recorded history. In 2022 alone, the state faced 20 major wildfires burning over 899,453 acres of land. Residents were evacuated, homes were destroyed and debris from the flames contaminated the water supply in some regions.
“In the off-chance that anybody who does have any influence, or is running for anything, comes across this article … there are so many people who are depending on you so people don’t die, literally.”
“New Mexico had one of it’s biggest fires up in Las Vegas. And that was actually started by the government as a controlled burn … they started this fire and they didn’t know what to do because it got out of hand. I think maybe education has to start with them,” said Phillip Garcia, an NMSU student and member of Aggies Go Green.
Gov. Lujan Grisham worked with the federal government to help initiate funding for New Mexicans who were affected by the fires. Lujan Grisham says her administration has persuaded the federal government to avoid performing prescribed burns in the way that they have in the past.
Republican nominee Mark Ronchetti has a very different vision for the state with regard to environmental action. Climate change does not appear to be a prominent part of his campaign platform, as environmental issues or initiatives are not even mentioned in his published policy agenda. In response to wildfires, though, Ronchetti advocates for more logging in the state to help contain fires and care for New Mexico’s forests. He feels current legislation neglects forest management due to influences by “far-left environmentalist groups.”
The western U.S. is facing a 1,200-year “megadrought,” and the situation could potentially get worse in the coming years according to new research published in March 2022. In addition to water scarcity, the New Mexico Environment Department is investigating the issue of polyfluoroalkyl contamination and reports that it is one of the NMED’s top priorities. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 87% of New Mexico’s public water supply is sourced from groundwater.
NMSU student Sophia Fuentes, a member of NMSU’s Environmental Science Student Organization, is familiar with PFA contamination in the state and warns of its harmful effects.
“Groundwater is exposed to PFAs, which the federal government does not regulate. These water pollutants affect our health negatively,” Fuentes said.
Lujan Grisham says the Inflation Reduction Act is providing funding for more efficient water infrastructure and promises to “work with the federal government to make sure that surface and groundwater gets addressed for the state.”
Ronchetti acknowledges the water crisis in New Mexico and advocates changing the way water is captured and how it is transported. His campaign pushes for desalination and promises to provide municipalities with the water they need while also protecting ranchers and farmers. He attributes his background in meteorology to his capacity to understand water conservation and said in the latest debate that through significant commitment, there can be enough water for the state. For the record, the Albuquerque Journal reports Ronchetti earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Washington State University and holds an American Meteorological Society seal of approval.
Despite Republican officeholders’ broad disapproval of environmental protection policies, Republican voters are increasingly open to some policy approaches on climate change. The Pew Research Center poll from 2021 shows that among Republican voters, younger generations are more likely to say that too little is being done to help reduce the effects of climate change. This statistic is reflected on college campuses like NMSU.
Aggies Go Green, an NMSU student-led organization, provides an example of young voters coming together in a bipartisan manner to tackle an existential threat. Three members from Aggies Go Green, who each identify with different political ideologies, all agree that something needs to be done about climate change. All members of this organization dedicate their time toward environmental activism in hopes of protecting our planet for future generations.
In the final analysis, America could go in many different directions in addressing the impacts of climate change. The U.N. reports “climate change is the defining issue of our time” and that “we are at a defining moment.” As this becomes more widely understood, bipartisan support for environmental policy will naturally increase.
Aggies Go Green Treasurer Justin Sanchez may have said it best. “In the off-chance that anybody who does have any influence, or is running for anything, comes across this article … there are so many people who are depending on you so people don’t die, literally … and so that the planet doesn’t burn. Please, it’s not even a criticism masked as a plea, it’s a literal please,” Sanchez said.
All voters are encouraged to consult votesmart.org in order to research candidates’ biographies, voting records, policy positions, ratings, speeches and funding. Votesmart.org is a nonpartisan organization. Its stated mission is “to provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to all Americans.”