New Energy Economy is one of only a handful of advocacy organizations that practices before the PRC. As legal interveners and advocates we have intimate knowledge of how our regulatory agency is and isn't working and what changes are needed to strengthen regulatory protections and enforcement. So we wanted to share our position on this constitutional amendment question. Thank you to everyone who has reached out over the last several weeks to solicit our view.
We do not support Constitutional Amendment #1. We believe in preserving the democratic power vested in the people of New Mexico to choose our regulators. Below are the main reasons why. Before you review them, you should know that we actually sat with Peter Wirth AND Brian Egolf 5 years ago and talked about working together to pursue appointments as a way to remedy the corruption we saw at the PRC.
But our minds have been changed.
First by realizing that we have the power to hold our elected PRC commissioners accountable (which we did when we exposed their corruption and helped the public see the need to replace them both in the next election -- which New Mexicans did!) and second, when we heard from friends in other states that have Governor appointed utility regulators. Our energy democracy movement partners in other states have shared with us that their appointed systems meant that they had literally no access and no ability to organize people power to influence decisions. They found that it skews the power balance - the people have diminished influence.
Meanwhile, the Governor who appoints is even more susceptible to campaign contributions for themselves and their party. Here in New Mexico we can look to the evidence of the ways in which the utilities and energy industry have muzzled our lawmakers and obstructed all meaningful legislative action on climate. The ETA, was passed virtually unanimously even though it included unconstitutional provisions that stripped the regulatory agency of its authority to regulate. We see the danger of consolidating power in the hands of the Governor. According to this report by Common Cause and New Mexico Ethics Watch titled:THE NEW MEXICO OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY AND ITS ALLIES: Oceans of Oil, Oceans of Influence - the Governor and the legislature are already awash in money from both PNM and oil and gas.
Additional Reasons We Oppose Constitutional Amendment #1:
1. It concentrates power in the Governor no matter who s/he is.Under an appointed commission the PEOPLE will have no recourse when the PRC makes a bad decision. Everything will be mediated through the Governor’s office. Maybe some folks like that idea right now, when Democrats are in control, but imagine a 6 year appointed PRC under Suzanna Martinez's administration. We could very well find ourselves in that predicament in the future, at a time when utility regulation has become more and more critical to addressing the climate crisis within a short time span.
2. Although there have been issues with PRC commissioners in the past, and likely will be in the future, the democratic process has worked. Corrupt commissioners have been removed from office and the people are currently represented well. The current PRC voted correctly (5-0) on the most important energy decision we’ve had: 100% renewable replacement power for the closure of San Juan coal plant. The next Commission (January) will be even better. We need more funding for this Constitutionally mandated body so we can have staff that are qualified and/or money to hire consultants.
3. We need courageous leadership mandated by the people -- qualified appointments are not getting the job done. The Governor’s argument is that the appointments will be meritorious rather than political. The problem is the people she has appointed to oversee industry (see NMED, EMNRD, OCD, etc.) have been “smart" and “professional,” in the sense that they are articulate and not corrupt (as in accepting kickbacks or being on the "take"), but they have given industry a complete pass! The fact is that this administration has been terrible on holding industry accountable, and her appointments at the agencies that govern our natural resources do not inspire confidence.
Here are just a few examples of their work:
95% of all gas oil and gas wells in New Mexico would be exempt from NMED’s new methane rules that they have worked on for the past 1.5 years with much fanfare (but obviously no substance). Environmental Defense Fund estimates methane is leaking at three times the rate being reported to the EPA.
There have been over 218 major "produced water” (toxic radioactive fracking waste) spills so far in 2020, and another 202 minor produced water spills, threatening the health of our land and precious water. None of these spills have resulted in any significant consequences for responsible parties.
Ozone regularly exceeds EPA limits in Eddy and Lea County and is worsening, and NMED regularly rubber stamps permits for new facilities. (We are unaware of one facility that has been rejected because of environmental or health reasons.)
All of this is happening while, unfortunately, funding and staffing issues at EMNRD have led to a 28% reduction in inspections of oil and gas facilities during this administration.
Furthermore, people are being misled about how the PRC works. Regulatory law does require expertise, technical knowledge and judicious objectivity, but this expertise is already provided by the Hearing Examiner, who evaluates and provides a Recommended Decision in each case.The role of the Commission is to bring the people's voices and representative democracy into the decision-making process - which will not happen with appointments.
The Secretary of State published a Voter's Guide with For and Against Arguments and we responded to each of the For arguments with more insights and concerns.
WANT TO HEAR MORE? RETAKE OUR DEMOCRACY WILL HOST A DEBATE ON THE SUBJECT TONIGHT AT 6:30PM
PRC Constitutional Amendment: Commissioners Appointed or Elected. The Pros & Cons.
We will discuss the history of the PRC, its strengths and failings as well as the pros and cons for passing a NM State Constitutional Amendment to shift from electing PRC Commissioners to having the Governor appoint them. The Amendment would also reduce the number of PRC Commissioners to three. Lot’s at stake on this and many people have asked for this Zoominar. We’ve scheduled this very special zoom to occur the night before early voting begins in NM. This will be a Zoom where we will present both sides to a complex issue. Joining us for the discussion will be Noah Long, Western Region Director for Climate and Clean Energy with the National Resources Defense Council, and Joe Maestas, a candidate for PRC Commissioner. Retake Our Democracy will announce its position on this Amendment the day after the debate.