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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 11/ 9/2007

Richardson: 'I Am the Greenest of Them All'

By Michael Dobbs

Bill Richardson on the campaign trail.

"I like to compete with other governors about which is the clean energy state. We are the only state that follows the Kyoto treaty."

--Bill Richardson, on the Stephanie Miller radio show, November 7, 2007.

The governor of New Mexico has a good record on environmental issues. But is he correct in claiming that his state is cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 1997 Kyoto protocol that the Bush administration has refused to ratify. And is New Mexico "the only state" that is "following" the Kyoto treaty? That seems quite a stretch.

The Facts

Let's look first at what the Kyoto protocol says, and what New Mexico is doing. The treaty establishes maximum levels of carbon emissions for different groups of countries. If the U.S. had ratified the treaty, it would have been required to reduce its emissions for the 2008-2012 period (averaged over five years) down to seven percent below 1990 levels.

After the Bush administration refused to ratify the treaty, states and cities around the country started setting their own targets. In 2005, Richardson issued an executive order that committed New Mexico to cut greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2012, and by a further 10 percent by 2020.

That is a laudable objective, but it is still a long way from meeting the targets established by the Kyoto protocol. According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Richardson's Executive Order will cap carbon dioxide emissions in New Mexico at 48.6 million metric tons by 2012. In 1990, the state accounted for 33.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. In order to meet the Kyoto target, New Mexico would have to reduce its emissions by a further seven percent, to around 31.5 million metric tons.

To put it another way, even if the state meets the targets established by the governor, New Mexico will be producing nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide emissions by 2012 than the Kyoto target for the United States. It is hard to square that harsh statistic with Richardson's claim that New Mexico is "the only state" in the nation that "follows the Kyoto treaty."

To be fair to both Richardson and New Mexico, there are some extenuating factors at work. As one of the fastest growing states in the nation, New Mexico clearly has a tougher time meeting the Kyoto target than states in the Northeast, whose population is either stagnant or declining. If the United States ratified the Kyoto protocol, it would commit itself to meeting the emissions reduction targets on a national basis, rather than a state-by-state basis. New Mexico is one of a handful of states that have taken the lead in cutting their carbon emissions.

"I would put them in the top ten," said Judi Greenwald, who tracks the performance of individual states for the Pew Center. "For a growing state they are doing a lot." Greenwald credited Richardson with "a leadership role" on the issue of global warming, but described as "incorrect" his claim that New Mexico was ahead of every other state.

A state-by-state comparison drawn up by the Pew Center shows that 17 states have so far established their own targets for reducing carbons emissions. California, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut are some of the states that can claim to be in the forefront of the "Green state" movement, together with New Mexico.

New Mexico environmental officials are more modest about their achievements than the governor. One official burst out laughing when I called the New Mexico Environment Department yesterday afternoon to check on the state's carbon emissions levels. She evidently found it difficult to believe that the Washington Post was interested in such a subject, but passed me on to the environmental and energy policy coordinator.

"I'm not sure we are ahead of California," said Sandra Ely. "But for the size of our state, we are doing exceptionally well."

Richardson campaign spokeswoman Katie Roberts did not attempt to defend the governor's Kyoto claim. Instead she pointed to a string of environmental initiatives, including "a strong new energy efficiency bill," higher renewable energy standards, "a hefty climate action plan", and tighter clean car regulations.

The Pinocchio Test

Bill Richardson has succumbed to the temptation of local boosterism with his claim that New Mexico, alone among the 50 states, is "following" the Kyoto Protocol. That statement is not true. It seems strange that a candidate with a generally good record on environmental issues should want to hype it even further. We would like to cut the governor some slack for his leadership on global warming, but we have to stick to our rating scale. Four Pinocchios.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | November 9, 2007; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  4 Pinocchios, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, Environment  
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