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Greenhouse gas rules are a necessary step

Brian Shields

On April 25, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a report to Congress with some very disturbing news: Due to the effects of climate change, eight major river basins in the United States, including New Mexico’s Rio Grande, could suffer up to a 14 percent reduction in flows over the next four decades.

The Rio Grande is the lifeblood for the majority of New Mexico’s human and wildlife species. It provides water for irrigation, for our homes and for our recreation. This significant reduction in flows would be catastrophic for New Mexico’s already dwindling water supplies, and for the plants, animals, individuals, communities and industries that depend on those water supplies for their livelihood.

Moreover, Salazar’s report coincides with the release of dire forecasts for extreme drought in New Mexico in 2011. In April, when the Rio Grande should benefit from spring snowmelt, an emergency reservoir release was necessary to keep the river flowing south of Albuquerque. Taken together, the data is clear: New Mexico must address climate change or be left in the dust.

The science leaves little doubt

The science leaves little doubt that the most significant cause of climate change is human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. In 2010, the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) recognized the reality that, if GHG emissions are not mitigated, the adverse effects of climate change will be disastrous for New Mexico’s citizens, environment and economy.


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As the state board charged with protecting New Mexico’s environment, the EIB took decisive action. After weighing all the evidence and taking testimony from the public, scientists and economists, the EIB used its authority to regulate GHG pollution. In doing so, the EIB took a small but very significant step in addressing climate change.

Now, industry groups that do not want to comply with the GHG rules are suing the EIB in state court. Worse, the current EIB is unlikely to defend the rules. In one of her first acts, our new governor, Susana Martinez, who is openly hostile to the new rules, fired and replaced all the members of the EIB.

While the Martinez administration has placed an emphasis on the “negative” economic impacts the regulations might have on business, the economic consequences from failing to take action on climate change are even worse. The New Mexico State Engineer’s 2006 report on climate change impacts in New Mexico stated that “reacting to changed conditions can be ultimately more costly than making forward-looking responses that anticipate likely future conditions and events.”

A 2008 study by NMSU and UNM predicts that unmitigated climate change could result in annual economic losses of $300 million to agriculture in the Rio Grande Basin under “moderate” river flow reductions. The report doesn’t include costs from increased litigation and adjudication, severe weather, lost environmental services from agriculture, and the impact on social and cultural practices, such as acequia systems.

A 2010 Sandia National Laboratory technical analysis of the economic costs of inaction on climate change projected a cost of $1 trillion to the U.S. economy between 2101-2050 and costs to the state of New Mexico of $26 billion.

Without water, we lose farming, ranching, fisheries, and other vital industries. Moreover, we lose our natural heritage, our cultures, and our identities.

We have no choice but to adapt

To protect these interests, Amigos Bravos, along with the League of Women Voters of New Mexico and the Center of Southwest Culture, have asked the court to allow us to intervene to defend these vital rules. The groups are represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice.

A defining mission for Amigos Bravos is to ensure that natural river flows are maintained and, where those flows have been disrupted by human intervention, to reclaim the river ecosystem by approximating natural flows. To ensure the protection of our watersheds and water supply, we are committed to reducing the impacts of climate change by supporting New Mexico’s leadership in curbing GHG emissions.

The horse is out of the barn. Climate change is already happening, and we have no choice but to adapt. We cannot sit idly by and accept the consequences of unmitigated climate change. We must do our part to stop GHG gas pollution and hold others who would not accountable.

Brian Shields is executive director of Taos-based Amigos Bravos, a nationally recognized New Mexico river conservation organization.

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58 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. “At a U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing yesterday, President Barack Obama’s EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, admitted the environmental risk of hydraulic fracturing is practically nonexistent.”

  2. IP thank you for your spirited response. My only point is that NM has had legal representation as have the impacted parties on both sides of the border. I believe many of the attorneys on both sides are quite well versed in water rights laws. These cases have been argued for decades not just weeks, months and years. Stuff happens.

    On an inflation adjusted basis, oil and gas prices are about what they were back in the early 1980′s. The price has rise a bit lately due to demand issues..our supply is somewhat inelastic. This sure does not indicate we are running out any time soon.. You can verify this at several peer reviewed locations.

  3. MJM:

    First of all, about half of the HuffPost articles qofdisks (yes, it is a “Q”, not a “G”) links to are from the AP… which is exactly where every other site gets their stories, too. Second, if you think that the competence of New Mexico’s legal counsel in the water compacts matters, then you clearly don’t know much about the situation; it’s been common knowledge for years that Texas has been taking far more than their granted share, and that there is very little legal recourse for us.

  4. As for Michael Hays, he has either simply spent too much time in the southern sun that has baked his rationality, or simply doesn’t understand basic economics. My guess is, the latter: he is not an economist or a businessman.

    This statement struck me as well; considering it’s coming from a man who apparently has no understanding of or chooses to ignore the rather integral concepts of finite resources, overhead, and production-to-market time, I’m absolutely positive that despite his on-paper qualifications, Mr. Molitor and others who blindly worship the same brand of demonstrably mathematically-insupportable brand of economics would be well-advised to avoid judging the economic advice of anyone else.

  5. gofdisks..First Water Rights: To assume that the parties to this adjudication were not represented by very good legal counsel, regardless of whether they are on the Texas or NM side of the border shows me yet agin that you don’t know the subject matter very well.

    On the tecnnology issue and Peak Oil let me give you just one example of how
    technology has come into play on this issue. It is called Petro Brazil….Huge deposits of oil found off the coast that President Obama suggests we purchase….making us even more dependant on others for our oil needs. There are many more examples.

    And please stop quoting the Huffington Post as some great source of information. Find me something peer reviewed instead of this goofy source.

  6. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/toni-nagy/the-hypocrisy-of-being-green-and-reproducing_b_862487.html
    Don’t watch the video if you are easily offended. The truth is not pretty.

  7. Thomas Molitor,

    You write, “As for Michael Hays, he has either simply spent too much time in the southern sun that has baked his rationality, or simply doesn’t understand basic economics. My guess is, the latter: he is not an economist or a businessman.”

    I addressed your comment with specific economic arguments. You respond with a statement entirely ad hominem. Anyone who cares to see can see that you cannot defend your position or attack mine.

    Anytime you want to take up any point of mine and show that I do not understand basic economics, do so. I challenge you to do something beside saying-so.

    BTW, much of my consulting work involved addressing economic issues, both at the micro and at the macro level. And, as an independent consultant who incorporated his services, I think that I know something about business. I did not enjoy offices, secretaries, and water coolers in an office while working for someone else. So your guess is just an excuse to sling it.

    Your “economic” position seems to be that because shales contain a lot of gas and oil, it is economic to produce it. Nonsense.

    There is a lot of hydrogen in water, but liberating it from oxygen so that it can be used as a clean fuel is presently too expensive for it to be done.

  8. MJM says,
    ” Lots of sweat and tears went into this.”
    Whose sweat and tears? Lawyers who got their pay off? Now it is the south of the state that is crying real tears as the drive to Chope’s emulates a vision from Iraq’s dust. Las Cruces will soon look like that hot armpit, El Paso, and El Paso will still remain ugly as ever. It is a Texas water grab pure and simple. It is a crisis occurring under the auspices of a Texan governor and a do nothing AG.

    “Your data is 6 years old”
    Geological data is not rendered obsolete by 6 years of so called changed Technology. Easy oil time has already passed and the extraction of energy is becoming more and more destructive and expensive. Are you referring to the wondrous technology applied in deep water oil such as we have seen in the Gulf? It is not so viable or cheap as you say. Fracking has been exposed to be intolerably dangerous and dirty as well.

    “have you ever noticed that when you try to clean something up…something else gets dirty. Ever looked at you mop after washing the kitchen floor? How about the water in the bucket? You clean the floor and the mop and water get dirty….”
    Yes, and if you use the right soap, you can throw the water on the garden. Also, waste water is treated at the sewer with micro-organisms and filters to be re-cycled into the water systems.

    “Same goes when you want to clean up the environment.”
    That is why a paradigm shift is required for long term solutions. We can not go on living as we are in a disposable world. Humanity has to learn to live within it’s means in cyclic turnover with nature rather than in linear extraction and discarding. We need to live smarter, with higher culture and in fewer numbers. Read about grass farming as an example of cyclic living. Yes, it is more difficult and more sophisticated and requires good education and hard work.The easy mindless living off of fossil fuels will end either in a rational planned way…or not.

    “Fracking of wells has gone on for several decades. The technology exists to limit the impact on potable water.”
    If technology exists to save potable water, they have not used it. As for extractive industry fear of litigation, hardly. They have too much power and money which they use to bribe politicians, promote anti-environmental propaganda and legislation. We have seen the powerlessness of small groups of people who can’t afford justice going up against entire expensive law firms bought by the extractive industries. The lawyers that go up against these powerful juggernauts of destruction depend on small donations only even as the politicians rake in their campaign donations from big energy to remain complicit or worse.

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