A Corrales resident who sits on the N.M. Environmental Improvement (EIB) has a key role in a current attempt to address the state’s outsized contributions to global warming. Barry Bitzer sits on the EIB as it conducts hearings on state regulations to control oil and gas field operations in New Mexico that could slow climate change due to the rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The hearing is on tougher regulations on oil field emissions considered precursors to ozone pollution.
The EIB hearing process started last year to consider a petition from the N.M. Environment Department to beef up rules for oil and gas operators in counties where releases of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (precursor chemicals to formation of ozone) have risen to at least 95 percent of federal ambient air quality standards. Sandoval County is one of those, but most are in southeastern and northwestern parts of the state.
In recent years, attention has been focused on methane releases and their exceptional potency as greenhouse gases. But the State of New Mexico has limited ability to address methane because it is not a listed “criteria pollutant” in the context of the federal Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Even so, it has been estimated that if the Environment Department is able to move ahead with new regulations after the EIB hearing process, methane pollution in New Mexico would be reduced by around 851 million pounds a year.
Understandably the oil and gas industry has opposed the new rules that would require reporting for self-monitoring those emissions and new equipment to limit those. And predictably, those operators warn that such requirements will hurt the state’s economy.
Final rulemaking is expected sometime this year. The board continues to take testimony. “We have booked April 11, and possibly beyond, to continue our deliberations,” Bitzer told Corrales Comment April 4.
As it stands now, just 11 state inspectors are expected to monitor the more than 53,000 oil and gas wells.
If the EIB upholds the proposed regulations, the matter could go to the N.M. Court of Appeals, which, presumably, would confirm the board’s decision unless it was found to be arbitrary or capricious, not supported by substantial evidence in the hearing record or otherwise not in accordance with law.
The EIB hearings have included presentations by the N.M. Oil and Gas Association, the Gas Compressors Association and the Independent Petroleum Associator of New Mexico, as well as by Conservation Voters of New Mexico, Diné CARE, Earthworks, Natural Resources Defense Council, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, N.M. Environmental Law Center, the National Park Service and 350 New Mexico.
Non-technical testimony was offered by State Senator McKenna and 133 other citizens.
“Beyond wide-reaching environmental policy and a number of technical and scientific issues, many legal considerations await the board as it deliberates on provisions throughout the final proposed rule,” the EIB hearing office, Felicia Orth wrote.
Among those issues is whether the board can consider the “co-benefits of the rule in reducing methane emissions even though it is directed at nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds?”
On April 4, the United Nations convened Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report on how to mitigate ongoing climate change and scenarios to limit planetary warming to no more than 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial era average temperatures.
The report, compiled by leading climate scientists from around the world, says emissions of greenhouse gases must be cut in half within the next eight years to prevent rises above that 1.5 degree level.
“We’re past the point in human history where continuing to burn stuff is a bad idea, undermining both the climate and democracy,” the founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, responded. Happily, there’s a ball of burning gas hanging 93 million miles up in the sky that we can depend on. We have the tech, we need the will! At this point, a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is a must.”
The policy makers’ summary of the intergovernmental panel report is the work of 270 authors from 67 countries. An introductory section reads as follows, in part.
- “Widespread, pervasive impacts to ecosystems, people, settlements, and infrastructure have resulted from observed increases in the frequency and intensity of climate and weather extremes, including hot extremes on land and in the ocean, heavy precipitation events, drought and fire weather (high confidence).
“Increasingly since [the last report], these observed impacts have been attributed to human-induced climate change particularly through increased frequency and severity of extreme events. These include increased heat-related human mortality (medium confidence), warm-water coral bleaching and mortality (high confidence), and increased drought-related tree mortality (high confidence).
“Observed increases in areas burned by wildfires have been attributed to human-induced climate change in some regions (medium to high confidence). Adverse impacts from tropical cyclones, with related losses and damages, have increased due to sea level rise and the increase in heavy precipitation (medium confidence). Impacts in natural and human systems from slow-onset processes such as ocean acidification, sea level rise or regional decreases in precipitation have also been attributed to human induced climate change (high confidence).
- “Climate change has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems (high confidence).
“The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments (high confidence). Widespread deterioration of ecosystem structure and function, resilience and natural adaptive capacity, as well as shifts in seasonal timing have occurred due to climate change (high confidence), with adverse socioeconomic consequences (high confidence).
“Approximately half of the species assessed globally have shifted polewards or, on land, also to higher elevations (very high confidence). Hundreds of local losses of species have been driven by increases in the magnitude of heat extremes (high confidence), as well as mass mortality events on land and in the ocean (very high confidence) and loss of kelp forests (high confidence). Some losses are already irreversible, such as the first species extinctions driven by climate change (medium confidence).
“Other impacts are approaching irreversibility such as the impacts of hydrological changes resulting from the retreat of glaciers, or the changes in some mountain (medium confidence) and Arctic ecosystems driven by permafrost thaw (high confidence).
- “Climate change including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes have reduced food and water security, hindering efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals (high confidence). Although overall agricultural productivity has increased, climate change has slowed this growth over the past 50 years globally (medium confidence), related negative impacts were mainly in mid- and low latitude regions but positive impacts occurred in some high latitude regions (high confidence). Ocean warming and ocean acidification have adversely affected food production from shellfish aquaculture and fisheries in some oceanic regions (high confidence).
“Increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security, with the largest impacts observed in many locations and/or communities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Small Islands and the Arctic (high confidence). Jointly, sudden losses of food production and access to food compounded by decreased diet diversity have increased malnutrition in many communities (high confidence), especially for Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers and low-income households (high confidence), with children, elderly people and pregnant women particularly impacted (high confidence). Roughly half of the world’s population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least some part of the year due to climatic and non-climatic drivers (medium confidence). . . • “Climate change has adversely affected physical health of people globally (very high confidence) and mental health of people in the assessed regions (very high confidence). Climate change impacts on health are mediated through natural and human systems, including economic and social conditions and disruptions (high confidence). In all regions extreme heat events have resulted in human mortality and morbidity (very high confidence). The occurrence of climate-related food-borne and water-borne diseases has increased (very high confidence).
“The incidence of vector-borne diseases has increased from range expansion and/or increased reproduction of disease vectors (high confidence). Animal and human diseases, including zoonoses, are emerging in new areas (high confidence). Water and food-borne disease risks have increased regionally from climate-sensitive aquatic pathogens, including Vibrio spp. (high confidence), and from toxic substances from harmful freshwater cyanobacteria (medium confidence). Although diarrheal diseases have decreased globally, higher temperatures, increased rain and flooding have increased the occurrence of diarrheal diseases, including cholera (very high confidence) and other gastrointestinal infections (high confidence). In assessed regions, some mental health challenges are associated with increasing temperatures (high confidence), trauma from weather and climate extreme events (very high confidence), and loss of livelihoods and culture (high confidence). Increased exposure to wildfire smoke, atmospheric dust, and aeroallergens have been associated with climate-sensitive cardiovascular and respiratory distress (high confidence). Health services have been disrupted by extreme events such as floods (high confidence).
- “In urban settings, observed climate change has caused impacts on human health, livelihoods and key infrastructure (high confidence). Multiple climate and non-climate hazards impact cities, settlements and infrastructure and sometimes coincide, magnifying damage (high confidence). Hot extremes including heatwaves have intensified in cities (high confidence), where they have also aggravated air pollution events (medium confidence) and limited functioning of key infrastructure (high confidence).”
The full report, “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” can be found at http://www.ipcc. ch/report.ar6.