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N.M. Environmental Improvement Board hears anti-cap-and-trade testimony

While environmental activists played their part yesterday during demonstrations at the capitol building, going so far as to dress up as solar panels and to sing the tune of “You Are My Sunshine,” their counterparts, the anti-cap-and-trade contingency who has been testifying before the Environmental Improvement Board during hearings on repealing a year-old law to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, did the same.

In a Manichean battle pitting good versus evil, one of Wednesday’s key witnesses was none other than a man labeled in 2002 as the “Clean air villain of the month,” who was testifying on behalf of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, an oil, gas and utility interests seeking to overturn the EIB’s 2010 measure,

As outlined in an earlier *New Mexico Independent *story, Governor Susana Martinez has been seeking a repeal of the EIB’s 2010 edict that the state require its utility industries and other large emitters of carbon dioxide to cut their emissions of the gas by two percent a year beginning in 2012 and running through 2020.

Martinez has argued — along with the representatives of the Public Service Company of New Mexico, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association and other oil and gas and utility companies — that the measure harms these businesses, incurs unjust fees on them and that any climate change regulation ought to take place on a national, not state level.

The hearings started on Tuesday and are set to finish up next Tuesday.

Yesterday’s star witness for the anti-cap-and-trade activists was former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Jeffrey Holmstead, who said that the likelihood of any national cap-and-trade program is lower than ever — despite repeated actions of the EPA. Holmstead also said he believes that the state’s rule would have little to no impact on climate change and that costs would outweigh benefits.

In 2002, after refusing requests from former Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont to reveal internal documentation on the Clean Air Act, the Clean Air Trust named Holmstead its “Clear air villain of the month.” Holmstead came in as a hired lobbyist working on behalf of Tri-State, a wholesale electric supply utility company that runs 44 systems in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and New Mexico.

Later, in 2010, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and lobbyist Roger Martella Jr. enlisted Holmstead to help craft legislation intended to disable the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses. Just before doing so, Holmstead, his employer and two of their major clients donated over $125,000 to Murkowski.

Holmstead has also worked as an “adjunct scholar” for Citizens for the Environment, a spinoff of Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Citizens for the Environment, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has “labeled most environment problems—including acid rain . . . as myths.”

Citizens for a Sound Economy was founded and funded by the Koch brothers, Charles and David, the notorious right-wing and libertarian billionaire duo who have been linked to the Tea Party movement and who, according to Kert Davies of Greenpeace, have since 1997 given close to $55 million to climate change deniers.

Among the group’s opposing the opposers is the New Energy Economy, the Santa Fe-based clean-energy advocacy organization established in 2004. Along with WildEarth Guardians and other environmental activist groups, the NEE sees the about-face by the IB has essentially politically motivated.

“A party is not supposed to take one position in front of a body and then adopt a different position later on,” said its executive director Mariel Nanasi. “Courts don’t generally favor that sort of switch. Unless there’s some actual basis for that change, it’s very unusual. The EIB can’t just turn on a dime like that.”

While the solar-paneled protestors, who’d been organized into action by the NEE, sang their songs, their opponents gave the EIB estimates on costs of the board’s 2010 regulations — both to their companies and their customers. The figures ranged from $840 million to $1.6 billion over the 20 years. Representatives of New Mexico’s electric cooperatives then presented the board with more than 16,000 petition signatures in favor of repeal.

Nanansi said that the claims of exorbitant retrofitting and higher heating bills for those who can least afford it and lost jobs all amount to shell games.

“It’s a ruse — all these arguments,” she said. “This is the most important issue of our time, and they’re externalizing their costs for decades. It sounds good that they care about their customers, but PNM has raised its rates three times in the last four years. And that’s not because of the EIB’s new regulations. That’s because PNM made the risky decision to invest in coal.”

“It’s an ideological game,” added Nanansi. “The problem is, there are real consequences. Governor Martinez is doing her damnedest to tear everything down. But we’re going to continue to build momentum for clean energy. And if the EIB buckles to these utility and oil and gas interests, we’re going to appeal. There are a lot of legal opportunities to oppose this.”

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