New Clean Energy Rules Put New Mexicans Back to Work

Things were pretty rough for Marcos Cde Baca before he got work in the energy-efficiency field. He was out of a job, behind on his child support. As an independent carpenter and handyman, he wasn’t even eligible for unemployment.

“If Los Amigos didn’t hire me” — that’s Los Amigos ERC, Inc., a Santa Fe and Gallup-based weatherization group— ”I don’t know where I’d be,” he says.

Now, though, he’s got good work helping low-income households save money, save energy and cut down on pollution by weatherizing their homes. All of that is thanks to government policies that prioritize pollution reduction.

Throughout New Mexico, thousands of people like Cde Baca owe their livelihoods to such policies. Consider the 300-plus workers at Schott’s manufacturing facility in Albuquerque, who produce state-of-the-art solar power components. Or the formerly unemployed construction workers who’ve helped contractor David Bates weatherize homes in poor, rural towns. At New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, Prof. Shuguang Deng plans to employ post-doctoral researchers, graduate students and secretaries as he investigates clean, algae-based jet fuels for the US Air Force.

In fact, pollution-cutting jobs are the bright spot in New Mexico’s economy. A report by the Pew Charitable Trusts finds these jobs grew by 50 percent between 1998 and 2007, compared to only 1.9 percent for New Mexico jobs overall. From 2006 through 2008, almost $148 million in venture capital coursed into New Mexico-based clean energy projects.

That’s why it’s so confusing to hear Governor Susana Martinez refer to November’s historic pollution limits as “job-killing regulations.” The rules, which the Governor and her legislative allies are attempting to nullify, require large polluters such as utilities and oil and gas companies to cut their global warming pollution by 3 percent a year, from 2013 to 2020. For New Mexico’s residents, that will mean a lot less of the dirty air that each year causes thousands of hospital visits and premature deaths from asthma, heart disease, emphysema and lung cancer. And a lot less of the pollution that is already disrupting our fragile atmosphere.

Governor Martinez claims these regulations will drive jobs out-of-state to places like Texas, where no such regulations exist. But the truth is, these limits can actually save money for pollution-producing businesses. The utilities that generate more than 75 percent of the state’s global-warming pollution are a prime example. Reducing energy demand through efficiency measures costs utilities only half as much as producing energy in power plants. And energy-efficiency measures allow these utilities to save money by not having to build expensive new power plants as energy demand increases.

When Governor Martinez calls these regulations “job-killers,” she seems to ignore the fact that they are actually job-creating powerhouses. Every $1 million invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy creates 16.7 jobs, on average, compared to only 5.3 jobs for fossil fuels. Those are jobs for people like Cde Baca’s coworkers, more than 40 of whom were unemployed before they got work weatherizing houses. And the 200 construction workers who built the newly-opened Cimarron 1 solar power station in the northeastern part of the state, which now powers 9,000 homes with pollution-free electricity. Those job-generating benefits extend to everyone from store clerks to architects to school teachers. To everyone, really.

That’s because pollution-limiting policies save people money by lowering individual energy use at the same time as they lower overall demand, which reduces energy prices. When people save money on energy, they have more money to spend on everything else, creating jobs in every part of the economy.

The Governor is right to want to prioritize job creation in this state where poverty is almost four percentage points higher than the national average and unemployment hovers at 8.5 percent. In doing that, she should do well to pay attention to the lessons learned by Marcos Cde Baca, whose job in energy-efficiency allows him to provide for his children and even save a couple hundred bucks with every paycheck. “I read thank-you letters from the people whose houses we’ve weatherized,” he says. “They all mention that their energy bill has gone down. Our insulators, our carpenters, our assessors, all the people involved in getting the houses weatherized—it’s paying off for everyone.”