New Mexico governor thanks oil and gas, cheers hydrogen plan

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham briefly outlined the effort at a rally of oil executives on Monday in a speech acknowledging the state’s dependence on industry’s tax revenues while promising to enforce environmentally friendly rules.

She paused while about 300 attendees complied before starting a 20-minute speech thanking oil and gas producers for their contributions to the economy and tax revenues that form the backbone of state education funding.

She promised to kickstart the hydrogen fuel industry in New Mexico with legislation in February.

“We are working on it while we talk,” Lujan Grisham said, adding that it is part of an effort to make New Mexico a “hub” for hydrogen fuel.

“The Hydrogen Hub Act will continue (to) help us achieve our ambitious climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% by 2030 – and increasing our economy in the process,” said New Mexico Environmental Department spokeswoman Kaitlyn O’Brien.

Like electric car batteries, hydrogen fuel cells emit no carbon dioxide when used. But electric cars, like the growing number of hydrogen vehicles including forklifts, are only “green” as the energy used to power them.

Most energy used to produce hydrogen currently comes from natural gas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and contributes directly to the pollution it causes. But proponents of the technology, including Biden, see it as a way to reduce carbon emissions as it becomes more environmentally friendly.

New Mexico’s first major hydrogen project describes itself as “blue” -exploiting natural gas to share water to create hydrogen. A recent study by Cornell and Stanford found that the process generates 20% more carbon emissions than burning natural gas or coal for heat.

In what could have been an applause for an industry with few friends in the White House, Lujan Grisham said she advocates for them at the highest level.

“We continue to hold talks with the Biden administration to ensure they understand the critical importance of this industry in our state,” the governor said.

But like most of the speech, it was greeted with a quiet buzz of ceiling lights and the occasional cough.

In March, Lujan Grisham Biden wrote, asking to exempt New Mexico from a decree stopping gas and oil production on federal land. She argued that the move would push hydrocarbon mining to Texas, which shares a boundary above ground and the oil-rich Permian Basin beneath it.

But Lujan Grisham describes himself as an “interested party” in the industry, not necessarily a friend.

She promised to limit methane emissions at mining sites and continue to enforce regulations requiring reduced use of fresh water and thorough clean-up of environmental waste.

The speech did not mention anything about an oil spill currently covering the coast of California, or the record fires got worse this summer by global warming.

Manufacturers say methane regulations will cost billions.

The governor will have to walk another string in February when environmentally friendly lawmakers from the state’s growing progressive wing will have a chance to balance hydrogen legislation, and so will New Mexico Oil and Gas representatives.

For many environmentalists, the governor’s methane regulations and support for hydrogen are not going far enough, fast enough, to stem global warming. Student protesters have begun highlighting the governor’s events and office.

A handful of student climate activists blocked hotel doors after the governor left Monday’s event. They sang and held up a sign that read “Who Do You Know?”

Back in the congress hall, most oil and gas leaders took off their masks immediately after the governor left.


Attanasio is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for the America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.


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