Albuquerque Journal: NM needs to focus on clean energy

By:  U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich

Climate change is one of the greatest economic challenges, and opportunities, of this century. We can deny that our climate is warming, and remain stuck behind our economic competitors in the developed – and increasingly, in the developing – world. Or we can move forward with a clean energy economy that will create jobs and protect the environment, with New Mexico leading the way.

We firmly believe that we must follow the latter path. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and turn our backs on the scientists who say we must take action now to reduce global warming pollution. We believe that ignoring climate change is not only dangerous for our health, it is disastrous for our economy.

Last week, we both voted against a highly politicized bill authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Rather than mandating the construction of oil pipelines for private foreign corporations, Congress should be focused on supporting domestic energy production that creates permanent American jobs.

First, let’s be clear. Climate change is real. New Mexico is at the eye of the storm, experiencing historic drought, severe flooding when it does rain and increasingly frequent wildfires. If we do nothing, it will get worse. According to a study at Los Alamos National Laboratory, by 2050 we may not have any forests left in our state. It will be as if New Mexico is dragged 300 miles to the South, to the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert.

We’re already seeing the impact on our economy. Just this month, the Government Accountability Office reported that climate change will continue to increase costs to taxpayers for the federal flood and crop insurance programs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is already $24 billion in debt, due to extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and last year’s floods in New Mexico.

The cost of the federal crop insurance program has increased 68 percent just since 2007. If left unchecked, these costs will continue to skyrocket. Even more disturbing than these numbers is the devastating impact of climate change to farmers, ranchers, and communities.

The threat is clear. But so are the solutions. With policies that encourage the production of clean energy right here at home, we can create a clean energy economy that leads the world in producing the jobs of the future. This will require a commitment that matches the scale of the challenges we face.

The United States has enough wind energy potential to power the nation 10 times over. New Mexico has the some of the best wind resources in the nation, enough to meet more than 73 times the state’s current electricity needs. Moreover, wind power has no carbon emissions and uses virtually no water, already saving New Mexicans almost 470 million gallons of water a year.

The U.S. solar industry now employs more people than coal and natural gas combined: 143,000 American workers in 2013, up nearly 20 percent from 2012. New Mexico ranks ninth in the country in installed solar capacity. Solar employment grew 10 times faster than the national average. The vast majority – 70 percent – of those jobs are in manufacturing and installation. Those are high-paying, local jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.

Now is the time to build on the momentum and invest in a clean energy economy – before we lose too much of the market to our overseas competitors in Germany, China and elsewhere. Just as we invested in the burgeoning oil industry, we need to invest in wind, solar and biofuels.

We call on Congress to support tax credits for renewables, and to continue to support resources for the important cutting-edge energy research at Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. We also must pass a national Renewable Electricity Standard – similar to the one in New Mexico and over half the states and the District of Columbia – requiring utilities to generate 20 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2020.

New Mexico can be a leader in the clean energy economy. We can create high-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced, and that can help revitalize our rural areas. We have the technology. We have the resources. We must ensure our commitment matches the challenges we face.

Rather than denying the problem, let’s work together and get the job done – for our economy, for our energy independence and for our future.