ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico regulators on Monday approved an environmental group's proposal for capping greenhouse gas emissions, marking the state's second major attempt in just over a month to get a handle on the pollutants blamed for causing global warming.
The Environmental Improvement Board voted 4-1 in favor of the petition by New Energy Economy, which calls for large polluters such as coal-fired power plants and refineries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels.
The board amended the proposal to make the new regulations effective in 2013.
Mariel Nanasi, a senior policy adviser for New Energy Economy, said she was elated with the decision. The effort to get the petition adopted has been a two-year process.
"We believe this policy, combined with our solar and wind resources, puts New Mexico on course to compete in the clean energy economy," she said. "It will be a job creator, and it will trigger enormous investments that will help us transition to clean jobs."
The petition was the focus earlier this year of days of public hearings and expert testimony. The board had thousands of pages of documentation to review before making a final decision. Monday's deliberations took about three hours.
Supporters have argued that New Energy Economy's plan allows New Mexico to move forward with controlling emissions since the proposal isn't dependent on regional partners, like the state's recently approved cap-and-trade program.
Critics fear both the NEE plan and the cap-and-trade program will put New Mexico at a competitive disadvantage and that regulation of greenhouse gas emissions should be left to the federal government to avoid a patchwork of policies across the country.
Like the state's program, New Energy Economy's petition applies to electricity generators and other facilities that emit at least 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
The NEE plan also includes provisions for offsets and banking of emissions credits from other sources not covered by the new rules, as well as a limit on how much polluters will have to spend on compliance each year.
The plan also includes an "off ramp" if businesses can show the rules will be detrimental to their economic viability.
The emissions reduction rules can also be reevaluated in 2014.
New Energy Economy initially proposed the emissions cap in December 2008. Opponents, including utilities and other industry groups, tried unsuccessfully in the courts to stop the petition from being heard by the board.