Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham briefly described the effort at an oil industry leaders convention Monday in a speech that recognized the state’s reliance on industry tax revenues while also committing to to apply environmentally friendly regulations.
She paused as some 300 attendees complied, before launching into a 20-minute speech thanking oil and gas producers for their contributions to the economy and to the tax revenues that form the backbone of the public funding of education.
She pledged to launch the hydrogen industry in New Mexico with legislation in February.
“We are working on it as we speak,” said Lujan Grisham, adding that it is part of an effort to turn New Mexico into a hydrogen fuel “hub”.
“The Hydrogen Hub Act will continue to help us meet our ambitious climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% by 2030 – and boost our economy in the process,” said New Mexico Department of Environment spokesperson Kaitlyn O’Brien said.
Like electric car batteries, hydrogen fuel cells do not emit carbon dioxide when in use. But electric cars, like the growing number of hydrogen-powered vehicles, including forklifts, are only as “green” as the energy used to power them.
Most of the energy used to produce hydrogen currently comes from natural gas, according to the US Department of Energy, and directly contributes to the pollution it causes. But proponents of the technology, including Biden, see it as a way to cut carbon emissions as it becomes safer for the environment.
New Mexico’s first large-scale hydrogen project describes itself as “blue”: it harnesses natural gas to split 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 a line of applause for an industry with few friends in the White House, Lujan Grisham said she stood up for them at the highest level.
“We continue to have conversations with the Biden administration to make sure they understand the critical importance of this industry to our state,” the governor said.
But like most speeches, it was greeted with a silent buzz of overhead lights and an occasional cough.
In March, Lujan Grisham wrote to Biden asking to exempt New Mexico from an executive order ending production of gas and oil on federal lands. She argued that the move would push oil extraction into Texas, which shares an above-ground border and the oil-rich Permian Basin below.
But Lujan Grisham describes himself as a “stakeholder” in the industry, not necessarily a friend.
It is committed to limiting methane emissions at mine sites and to continuing to enforce regulations requiring reduced use of fresh water and deep clean-up of environmental spills.
The speech made no mention of an oil spill currently covering the California coast, nor of record fires aggravated this summer by global warming.
Producers say methane rules will cost billions.
The governor will have to walk another tightrope in February when pro-environment lawmakers in the state’s growing progressive wing have a chance to weigh in on hydrogen legislation, and New Oil and Gas officials. -Mexico will too.
For many environmentalists, the governor’s rules on methane and support for hydrogen don’t go far enough, fast enough, to curb global warming. Student protesters began picketing outside the events and the governor’s office.
A handful of student climate activists have blocked hotel doors after the governor left Monday’s event. They sang and held a sign saying “Which side are you on?”
Back in the convention hall, most oil and gas executives removed their masks immediately after the governor’s departure.
Attanasio is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.