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Gessing: Time for an update on Michelle Lujan Grisham’s MPG mandate


Paul Gessing  |  Rio Grande Foundation

Recently, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made headlines with his announcement that by 2035 his State will ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles. That is an ambitious goal, but given the time line, it is hard to say what compliance will look like.

But for another, arguably even more ambitious car mileage proposal, one need look no further than New Mexico. Last September New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that by just model year 2022 New Mexico would be increasing its fuel economy requirement for new cars to 52 miles per gallon. The current average fuel economy rate is 25.1 MPG according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

As we noted at the time, Gov. Lujan Grisham (at the time) had “out California-ed California” by adopting even more stringent fuel economy standards than those on the books in California.

Will California’s decision spur Lujan Grisham to action? Perhaps more importantly, is New Mexico REALLY going through with the governor's 52 MPG standard? This was put forth at a time of a record (oil-driven) economic boom in New Mexico. That boom has evaporated thanks to COVID 19 and the Gov.’s lockdown of the State’s economy. She MAY not be as enthusiastic about such radical plans at a time of serious economic challenges.

If you’re expecting to find legislation on this topic from the 2020 legislative session, don’t worry, nothing was even introduced. We have never even seen a formal executive order from the Gov. formalizing this requirement. In fact, after the initial round of media discussion (led off by the New York Times) the issue has been completely forgotten about.  

And just to be clear, if the governor completely backed away from her plan, we would be more than happy to support such a move. The number of automobiles on the market right now that achieve such a standard is limited to about a dozen or so hybrid models. Considering that “light trucks” now account for 69% of the new car market, getting to that 52 MPG average is going to require one or more of the following:

  1. Unforeseen, drastic changes in automobile purchasing patterns among New Mexicans result in few trucks and more fuel-efficient vehicles being purchased;
  2. Massive taxpayer subsidies will have to be handed out to support the purchase of small/hybrid vehicles and massive taxes will be levied on larger vehicles and trucks. 
  3. Large numbers of New Mexicans purchasing their vehicles in neighboring states and bringing them home (thus devastating New Mexico car dealerships and the State economy).

As much as our Governor desperately wants to virtue signal to radical environmental groups who so strongly support her, attaining 52 MPG is simply not realistic by 2022. California’s Gov. at least had the good sense to impose his regulations long after he will be out of office, but unless Biden wins the White House and picks her for a position in his Administration, she will have to make some hard decisions about whether to comply with this mandate (or not).

Perhaps it is already a forgotten promise that she never intended to honor in the first place? If so, that is certainly fine with us, but it would seem that New Mexicans should be given an honest explanation so they know what to plan for or expect the next time they walk into a car dealership.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility