Sales of gas-powered pick-up trucks are safe as the State of New Mexico develops new standards intended to reduce air-pollutant emissions from cars and increase electrical vehicle use.
The new standard being developed by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and City of Albuquerque, which regulates its own air quality, would take effect in 2025 following months of public outreach and a rulemaking process before the State’s Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) followed by a two-year waiting period required by the Clean Air Act.
It would require auto manufacturers to adopt stricter restrictions on vehicle emissions and for dealers to offer a larger percentage of low-emission vehicles (LEVs) and zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) for sale.
The regulations would mimic those implemented by California – known for the strictest emissions standards in the U.S. – as federal law allows states to opt in to California’s rules or follow laxer federal requirements.
Sandra Ely, director of NMED’s Environmental Protection Division said during a July 21 public meeting the new standards would not apply to used vehicles or off-road or heavy duty vehicles. The rules would also not require additional testing or require purchases of low-emission vehicles.
The standards would not ban the sale of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) or pick-up trucks, she said, or expressly increase any taxes or costs to consumers.
The new regulations would eliminate an estimated 2 million tons of CO2 from the air in New Mexico by 2030, Ely said, and serve as a key component of the state’s strategy to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce its impact on climate change.
She said NMED was already underway with a rulemaking process to cut emissions of ozone precursors like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the oil and gas industry.
The fossil fuel sector accounts for 53 percent of New Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions, per NMED records, while transportation emitting 14 percent – the second-highest, air-polluting sector in the state.
The oil and gas rules were drafted earlier this year and under review, and Ely said the clean car standards were the next step in New Mexico’s broad plan of cutting carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 under a 2019 executive order issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Both rulemakings would serve the goal of cutting ozone as New Mexico identified seven counties across the state struggling with rising ozone levels thus declining air quality.
Eddy and Lea counties in the southeast region known for heavy oil and gas extraction reportedly had elevated levels of the air pollutant – within 95 percent of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) – along with San Juan, Rio Arriba and Sandoval in the northwest, and area also known for fossil fuel operations.
Counties near major urban centers like Bernalillo and Valencia in the Albuquerque area and Dona Ana County which contains Las Cruces were also highlighted for ozone levels nearing the federal standard.
“This is a key element to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s climate change strategy,” Ely said of the clean car standards. “Now, we’re starting down this clean car initiative road. Adopting clean car standards in New Mexico is important to the state’s economy, to improving the air that we breathe and saving New Mexicans money at the pump.”
Claudia Borchert, NMED climate change policy coordinator said the standards would create an economic benefit for New Mexico, allowing motorists to save on fuel and maintenance expenses for their vehicles.
She said the average fueling cost for electric vehicles was the equivalent of about 75 cents per gallon of gasoline.
“More efficient vehicles mean New Mexicans will pay less at the pump,” she said. “Electric vehicles have lower lifetime ownership costs because of lower fueling costs and much lower maintenance costs.”
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said his administration was aligned with Lujan Grisham’s and planned to work with the State to adopt the clean car standards and ensure consistency between state air regulators and those of its biggest city.
“It’s a key component to achieving sustainability goals and the climate change goals that we’ve really set out,” Keller said. “As we’ve moved forward, our city stands in solidarity with the state and changes we’re going to make to keep our air cleaner.”
Ken Ortiz, president of the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association, a trade group representing vehicle dealerships throughout the state said the industry was concerned the clean car standards could go into effect before the adequate infrastructure like charging stations were in place in New Mexico.
He contended dealers must also have the proper training and tools to service the influx in low-emission vehicles the standards could bring and that the state should consider the rural nature of New Mexico and that motorists often travel long distances.
Ortiz said the infrastructure needed for electric cars to be a viable in New Mexico was “not quite there.”
A electrical vehicles charge can last up to 300 miles, Ortiz said, a distance shorter, he worried, than many New Mexicans might need to drive at one time.
“In and around in New Mexico, it’s a rural state. There’s not enough infrastructure out there to accommodate the proposed rules,” Ortiz said. “In order for New Mexicans to be able to travel safely and efficiently, the infrastructure has to be in place.
“I think a balanced approach is needed. Internal combustion engines have a longer range. They’re a known commodity.”
And while the New Mexico Legislature did provide some funding for charging stations and NMED approved about $4.6 million in funds from a settlement with Volkswagen for projects related to LEVs, Ortiz said adhering to the clean car standards would still require a “significant” investment from the private sector and automotive dealerships throughout the state.
“Some of our dealerships have made the investments. There are others working toward that goal,” Ortiz said. “Pollution is a big concern. Climate is a big concern. But the rules need to work for New Mexico while protecting the environment.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.