ALBUQUERQUE Leaders in Farmington decided Tuesday to challenge the states plan for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, marking the opening salvo in a legal battle that is expected to pit more municipalities and industry groups against state regulators.
Farmington city councilors had met privately with attorneys during a closed session last month and again briefly Tuesday before making their unanimous decision to move ahead with potential litigation.
It was up to the councilors to decide whether to authorize the city to file a notice of appeal with the state Court of Appeals over the Environmental Improvement Boards recent decision to adopt the new cap-and-trade regulations.
Mayor Tommy Roberts said the stakes are high for his community given that the regulations will affect the citys electric utility, its ratepayers and natural-gas operations throughout San Juan County that prop up the regions economy.
We cant afford to sit back and do nothing. Weve got to send the message that regulation needs to have a rational foundation behind it, Roberts said. Heres a case where we see no rational foundation for this regulation. ... Its largely symbolic, and we cant afford to take symbolic acts at the expense of real jobs.
In November, the Environmental Improvement Board narrowly approved a proposal by the state Environment Department to establish what department officials called the most comprehensive greenhouse-gas pollution reduction regulations in the nation.
The regulations allow New Mexico to participate in a regional cap-and-trade program with other Western states and Canadian provinces. The program will force coal-fired power plants, refineries, natural-gas compressor stations and other facilities that pump out a certain level of carbon dioxide each year to reduce those emissions by 2 percent annually starting in 2012.
Facilities that are over the cap could buy and bank allowances or offsets as part of the regional trade mechanism. Facilities under the cap would profit by selling their unneeded emission allowances.
Supporters contend the cap-and-trade program will benefit the economy by encouraging clean-energy development and help the state prepare for any potential future federal regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Critics argue that New Mexicos emissions are only a fraction of the global problem and that handicapping businesses with more regulation could prove economically disastrous.
Another point of contention has been whether the board, made up of non-elected members appointed by the governor, has the authority to adopt such sweeping regulations. The board argues it does.
Theres a greater public policy implication that needs to be resolved because it has been a problem that regulatory agencies are going well beyond what their legislative mandate is, said Farmington City Councilor Jason Sandel. I see quite a bit of importance and gravity in this question.