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New Mexico faces an uphill battle against climate change, despite Biden’s clean energy investments

President Joe Biden speaks at the Arcosa Wind Towers, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in Belen, N.M. Biden is making the case that his policies of financial and tax incentives have revived U.S. manufacturing. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon
President Joe Biden speaks at the Arcosa Wind Towers, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in Belen, N.M. Biden is making the case that his policies of financial and tax incentives have revived U.S. manufacturing. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

This week, President Joe Biden went on a three day campaign blitz to show Americans in the Southwest what he’s been doing to help their day-to-day lives and how he’s tackling climate change in the meantime.

Using an old plastic manufacturing plant turned wind tower production facility in Belen as a backdrop, Biden highlighted his signature Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), due to bring $15B to New Mexico for large-scale renewable energy generation and storage through 2030.

He’s making the claim that the money and incentives made possible by the legislation will help offset fossil fuel emissions and create jobs in the process.

“It’s the most significant investment in clean energy combating the existential threat of climate change ever anywhere in the world,” Biden said.

He also touted other investments made here in New Mexico.

There’s theCHIPS Act, which helped Intel expand computer-chip production in Rio Rancho and a permit issued after a 17-year wait for the SunZia energy transmission line that would run from New Mexico to California.

However, these laws seem unlikely to bring down the giant influence oil and gas has on the state budget.

“As a percentage of our general fund total, which, for FY 24, we were projecting to be almost $12 billion, almost 40% of that will come directly from the oil and gas industry,” said Charles Sallee, Interim Director for the Legislative Finance Committee.

“And when you include the permanent fund distributions from the permanent school fund, as well as the severance tax Permanent Fund, half of our revenues, half of the $12 billion, will be in some form or fashion coming from the oil and gas industry,” Sallee added.

The state's Energy Transition Act, passed by the legislature in 2019, has New Mexico working toward a statewide renewable energy standard of 50% by 2030. And while Sullee calls the IRA a “tremendous opportunity” to get the ball rolling, he said oil and gas production in the state isn't likely to peak for another 10-15 years.

According to the Energy Information Agency,in 2022, New Mexico's annual crude oil production reached an all-time high of about 574 million barrels, almost 9 times greater than it was in 2010, and the state was the U.S.'s second-largest producer of crude oil.

And the kinds of incentives created by the IRA and other legislation in the short to medium term are not likely to serve as a replacement for the robust oil and gas revenue New Mexico generates.

That, and the state has predicted budget shortfalls once production hits a peak in 2030 followed by an eventual decline in the following years.

Biden has repeatedly framed climate change as one of the top threats facing the U.S., promising to “end fossil fuels” before his election in 2020 and saying the U.S. government is working to generate 100% of America's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

But with the climate crisis only growing, climate groups say the administration is not moving fast enough.

“A lot of people are only thinking about the short term gains or losses,” said Julia Bernal, Executive Director for the Pueblo Action Alliance, a grassroots organization focused on environmental and social impacts in Indigenous communities.

Just hours before Biden was scheduled to speak on Wednesday, her organization, along with several others, unfurled banners over Interstate 25 just outside of Los Lunas in protest of the visit. One sign read: “Invest in Renewables.” Another encouraged the President to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

“Are we going to continue going down the path towards undrinkable water or poor air quality? Or, are we going to really take bold climate action and make that first step and phase out fossil fuels?” Bernal said.

Although Biden didn’t mention it in his speech, Bernal said the push by New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for a regional hydrogen hub and the President’s tax incentives for hydrogen production, which is usually created by burning natural gas, weighed heavily on her mind.

“We're essentially in the stage of creating a demand for hydrogen, when we should be creating that demand for solar and wind. It's only elongating the oil and gas industry even more,” Bernal said.

Federal data also shows permits for drilling under Biden have been ramping up, slightly exceeding what was leased under the Trump administration. In just this year alone, 3,000 acres of federal land were leased in New Mexico.

So, as oil production in the state is expected to grow 6.7% from current levels in the next year, resulting in an eye-popping 660 million barrels, Bernal said there’s a sense of urgency in order to protect the Land of Enchantment.

“One of our demands is to protect the sacred, and we're looking at this issue on a global scale, and a systemic scale as well,” Bernal said. “We have to do something in order for us to fulfill the future right to clean air, water and soil.”

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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