After President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in 2017 from an international agreement that set voluntary targets for how much countries would reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, a swath of states and cities across the country announced they would continue to honor the agreement.
New Mexico’s largest city joined that effort in 2018, and the state followed when Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham assumed office in 2019. Three leaders in climate initiatives described efforts at the state, local and university levels at the second talk of the New Mexico State University Climate Change Education Seminar Series last week. Plans for reducing carbon and methane emissions are not just in the drafting stages, but actually being implemented across the state. Projects range from installing solar energy arrays, to updating building energy codes, to incorporating electric vehicles into government transportation fleets.
Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, Kelsey Rader, Albuquerque sustainability officer and Dr. Dan Arvizu, NMSU chancellor, were the featured speakers for the night at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. The event was moderated by Melina Burnside, vice president of the Associated Students of NMSU and president of Defend Our Future, an on-campus chapter of an organization that promotes awareness of climate change.
Cottrell Propst co-chairs a climate change task force created by Lujan Grisham earlier this year in an executive order that joined New Mexico with 24 other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance, an organization formed in the wake of the U.S. government’s withdrawal from the international Paris agreement on climate.
“That agreement aims to keep global temperature rise, this century, below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change,” Cottrell Propst said.
Each state in the climate alliance commits to reducing what would be their share of greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris agreement.
“We know that in New Mexico, the industries contributing the most to greenhouse gas emissions are oil and gas, transportation and electricity generation – in that order,” Cottrell Propst said.
The task force is working to gain a comprehensive understanding about emissions so it can create successful goals, she said. For instance, in partnership with Descartes Labs in Santa Fe, satellite mapping and modeling are being used to monitor methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
The state is taking concrete actions now, as well. Cottrell-Propst said 20 state agency buildings will gain solar photovoltaic systems. Lujan Grisham has committed the state to adopt higher clean car standards next year, as 14 other states have done. And she noted passage of the Energy Transition Act by the Legislature earlier this year, which requires investor-owned public utilities to transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.
Albuquerque, the metropolitan center of the state, won technical support and resources from Michael Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge in early 2019. Mayor Tim Keller at the time of the award committed the city to “100% renewable energy usage” by 2022.
“We’ve committed to reducing our building energy use by 65 percent,” said Rader. “We have committed to powering municipal operations in the city of Albuquerque by 65 percent renewable energy by 2021 and 100 percent by 2025. We have also committed to converting our fleet to electric vehicles and hybrids – 63 percent of the eligible light duty fleet.”
Those goals are being realized already, she said, through installing charging stations for electric vehicles on city facilities as well as a rooftop solar initiative. There are 29 solar projects on track to be finished by January 2020, with 20 already completed on buildings such as libraries and fire stations, Rader said.
New Mexico Universities are taking action on climate as well. In her executive order, Lujan Grisham directed state agencies to seek ways to mitigate climate change. The University of New Mexico issued a press release in April noting a long history working on conservation and carbon-based energy reduction. In the wake of Trump pulling out of the Paris Accords, UNM joined with other research universities in the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) to work towards climate change mitigation.
UNM, NMSU and several other New Mexico universities are part of the “Climate Leadership Network” of institutions that file annual public reports about their progress in meeting their climate goals.
NMSU Chancellor Arvizu, who previously served as director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, detailed at the seminar last week how NMSU works to reduce its energy footprint.
For instance, the university uses energy from El Paso Electric during the nighttime, its off peak hours, to form ice with 72 “ice making vessels.” The ice is then used to chill water during the day for the cooling system, which allows less energy to be expended.
Arvizu said the university has received a few federal grants to help businesses find ways to reduce pollution and save energy, and to start a workforce development program to train clean energy workers. He also highlighted Arrowhead Research Park near Aggie Memorial Stadium. Arvizu said the long-term goal is for the park to use “net-zero” energy. This means the area will generate as much energy as it needs to sustain itself. The plan is to establish a three megawatt solar plant on the land with an added four hours of storage.
“It’s a teaching tool and it’s a research tool for our research scientists and our students,” Arvizu said about the solar plant. “And in addition, it can help us inform public policy.”
Leah Romero is New Mexico In Depth’s academic fellow at New Mexico State University for the 2019/2020 school year.