Indigenous communities in New Mexico have long dealt with the negative impacts of experimental energy projects promoted by state and federal governments.
This legislative session, as the state faces a climate crisis that is already disproportionately impacting Indigenous, low-income, and communities of color, the stakes of energy policies are higher than ever.
Why, then, is New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham touting the hydrogen fuel industry, which is nothing short of a scheme to subsidize oil and gas companies and keep the state dangerously reliant on fossil fuels?
The governor’s proposed “Hydrogen Hub Act” promotes hydrogen as a clean energy solution. But 96 percent of hydrogen production in the U.S. requires fossil fuels, and burning hydrogen is worse for the environment than burning coal.
Hydrogen development will only exacerbate the climate crisis the state is facing, while distracting state agencies from investing in meaningful climate solutions and renewable energy projects, like solar and wind.
As leaders in an Indigenous organization whose members and communities would be directly impacted by hydrogen development, we have taken a stand against all false climate solutions in New Mexico, including hydrogen, and are calling on the Governor to stop sacrificing our lands, waters, and communities.
Hydrogen is currently produced using methane gas – the “gas” in oil and gas. Converting methane to hydrogen promotes more fracking in our communities and releases carbon dioxide in the process. To boot, converting methane to hydrogen requires enormous amounts of energy, energy that today mainly comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Where will these fossil fuels come from? From more fracking in New Mexico. By promoting more fracking, this method of hydrogen production stands to perpetuate environmental injustice that our communities are already experiencing in the Greater Chaco region, cause further air and water pollution, and further damage sacred landscapes and public lands in New Mexico.
Some hydrogen (“green hydrogen”) can be produced using water, but with our state facing severe drought and a dwindling water supply, there is nothing “green” about using our precious water sources to drive a process that will only fuel the climate crisis.
Proponents of hydrogen, like Gov. Lujan Grisham, suggest that these pitfalls can be addressed by producing hydrogen with renewable energy and by capturing and storing carbon emissions released during the process underground.
Here, hydrogen truly reveals itself as a false solution.
On the carbon-capture front, we know this technology is a failed fantasy and has yet to achieve any level of commercial viability. Critically, however, the energy required to capture carbon emissions and permanently store them underground is itself astronomical. More energy means more fossil fuel burning, perpetuating the cycle of climate destruction.
Second, and crucially, any renewables used to produce hydrogen are renewables that can’t be used to replace coal, oil, and gas-fired power. This means that the governor’s hydrogen plan will not only promote more fracking across New Mexico’s already overburdened landscapes: it will actively stand in the way of the just energy transition that our state needs.As scientists the world over warn that a fast move away from coal, oil, and gas consumption and production is needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, it is clear that New Mexico cannot afford to slow down a transition from fossil fuels. Yet, the governor’s hydrogen development plans would do just that. This legislative session, we urge our leaders to stand up for our communities and future generations by saying NO to false climate solutions like hydrogen, so that we can build a just transition together.
Mario Atencio is a board member of Diné CARE, an all-Navajo environmental organization based on the Navajo homeland. It strives to educate and advocate for traditional teachings and promotes alternative uses of natural resources that are consistent with the Diné philosophy of Beauty Way. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.