Posted on July 25, 2010 10:28 pm

New Mexico's green energy future

What if there was a way to create thousands of sustainable, well-paying jobs in New Mexico without any cost to taxpayers? What if New Mexico could position itself as the country’s leading provider of clean, renewable energy? And what if someone trying to represent hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans in Congress opposed these developments? That is exactly what Steve Pearce is doing, and that’s why he’d be a poor choice for the Second District in 2011.

Climate change has become a central issue in the campaign between Harry Teague and Steve Pearce. Indeed, it was only after Teague voted for the House’s sweeping climate change legislation last June that Pearce, who had been mulling a bid for governor, decided to try to reclaim his old seat in Congress. Now, Pearce is using Teague’s vote for the House bill, which would establish a cap-and-trade system to regulate carbon emissions, as ammo in his quest to portray the first-term Democrat as out of touch with the needs of southern New Mexicans.

But Pearce’s argument lacks both validity and vision. The accusation that the House bill, also known as Waxman-Markey, would eliminate oil jobs for New Mexicans is unfounded for two reasons. First, Congressman Teague, much to the chagrin of some progressive voters who actually studied the bill, secured a deal with Democratic leadership in which oil producers would not be taxed at the wellhead, where most southern New Mexican oilmen make their money.

Second, alternative energy is actually a better job creator than fossil fuels. According to the New Mexico Economic Development Department (EDD), green job production in New Mexico grew by 50 percent between 1998 and 2007, more than 25 times the pace of overall job growth, which expanded by a sluggish 1.9 percent. The EDD also reports that each $1 million invested in clean energy and energy efficiency will create 16.7 jobs compared with only 5.3 if the money were invested in oil and gas. Finally, the department, citing studies conducted by the American Solar Energy Society, claims that investment in green energy could create 236,800 jobs for New Mexicans by 2030.

And these numbers only scratch the surface. New Mexico has perhaps the most dynamic renewable energy resources of any state. According to the Energy Atlas, an online repository for national energy statistics, the Land of Enchantment boasts the country’s second highest solar energy production potential, the seventh highest for geothermal energy, and the 12th highest for wind.

Yet Pearce continues to mislead voters. In an interview with the Artesia Daily Press last August, Pearce said “We should be encouraging the domestic production of energy, and Waxman-Markey is going to discourage it. So, the whole thing is wrong. In other words, it’s going to make us more dependent on foreign oil; not less dependent.” Really? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a non-partisan analytical office within the Department of Energy, Waxman-Markey would cut U.S. foreign oil consumption by $650 billion between now and 2030, yield savings of $6,500 per American household, and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 20 percent by 2025. The climate change legislation Teague voted for would do a lot of things, but increase the United States’ dependence on foreign oil isn’t one of them.

New Mexico won’t capitalize on its potential to serve as a leader in the green economy without tough, smart public policy. Waxman-Markey provides the impetus by incentivizing investments in green energy production. Moreover, by capping carbon emissions, the legislation forces businesses to shift into cleaner, renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, industries in which New Mexico has the ability to lead. New production on the domestic front would also serve to limit U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Rather than putting New Mexico on the defensive, Waxman-Markey places the ball firmly in New Mexico’s court. Teague seems to understand this. He voted for climate change legislation because it places a premium on the resources that New Mexico naturally holds in abundance.

Southern New Mexico currently faces staggering levels of unemployment. Voters want bold, innovative leaders who will design and support policies that send them back to work. Yet, Steve Pearce continues to use scare tactics to mislead southern New Mexicans on the true economic implications of climate change legislation.

Should such tactics surprise us? Perhaps not. After all, how much can we really expect from someone who has based their entire energy policy on a three-word talking point? “Drill baby, drill!” is a sound bite, not a solution.