Green amendment once again goes before legislature

Several Democratic state legislators are looking to amend the New Mexico Constitution to guarantee future generations the right to a clean environment. 

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, are the lead sponsors on a joint resolution that nearly two dozen of their colleagues have already voiced support for. The legislative session starts Tuesday and the joint resolution is among the pieces of legislation filed prior to the start. This is the second year that they have sponsored a joint resolution seeking to amend the state’s bill of rights to include environmental rights. This is colloquially dubbed the “Green Amendment.”

Because it is a constitutional amendment, voters would have to approve it if it passes the Legislature. 

If approved by voters, the bill of rights section of the state’s constitution would be amended to include the rights of future generations to clean water and air and a stable climate and healthy environments. It would also recognize the environment’s cultural, natural and human health values.

NMED pushes for funding for climate bureau

Sandra Ely, director of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Environmental Protection Division, says this is a “decisive decade” in terms of climate change. Ely is one of the “key architects” of a proposed climate bureau within NMED, according to Secretary James Kenney. Ely and Kenney spoke to NM Political Report this week about the climate bureau. 

The amount of what Kenney describes as “seed money” that the environment department could launch this bureau depends on the state Legislature. 

The governor and the Legislative Finance Committee have released proposed budgets that include vastly different numbers. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asked for $2.5 million for the climate bureau, which would fund 15 full time positions. In contrast, the LFC has proposed between $200,000 and $400,000, which would support three to seven full time positions depending on what happens with the Hydrogen Hub Act and clean fuel standards.

State senator seeks funding for Dryland Resiliency Center

New Mexico is in an ideal location for research into dryland resiliency, including best irrigation methods and drought-tolerant crop varieties, according to state Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, who has sponsored legislation to fund a dryland resiliency center. The legislative session starts Tuesday and the funding for the dryland resiliency center is among the legislation pre-filed before the first day. This research center would be based out of New Mexico State University but would also work collaboratively with other higher education institutions in the state including Eastern New Mexico University, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and the University of New Mexico. “This isn’t just to bring it into Las Cruces, where I live,” he said, explaining that the lead researchers are at NMSU and that is why it would be housed there. Soules has asked for approximately $15 million to fund this program.

BLM hosts roundtable discussion about federal funding for orphaned wells

Randy Pacheco, the chief executive officer of the San Juan Basin-based A-Plus Well Service, said the state’s workforce needs to be built up to address the orphaned oil and natural gas wells that dot the landscape in many states including New Mexico. 

Pacheco was one of the panelists who participated in a roundtable-style webinar discussion about the federal orphaned well program and the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to implement it. The bureau hosted the webinar, which drew hundreds of people, on Thursday. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law in November provided $4.7 billion for clean-up, remediation and restoration at orphaned well sites. That led to the U.S. Department of the Interior releasing initial guidelines on Dec. 17 for states to apply for funding.

Utilities appeal PRC decisions to the state Supreme Court

As utilities race to meet renewable energy targets set forth in the Energy Transition Act, two of the state’s investor-owned utilities have asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to review decisions the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has made in cases that they say will impact their transition. The Public Service Company of New Mexico appealed the final orders in both the Four Corners Power Plant ownership transfer and the Avangrid merger. Southwestern Public Service Company appealed the final order in its renewable portfolio standard case in which the PRC rejected its request for a financial incentive to retire renewable energy certificates early so that it could reach renewable energy targets early. PNM filed the appeal on the Four Corners Power Plant transfer on Dec. 22.

PRC denies PNM’s application to transfer power plant ownership to NTEC

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann said more information is needed before the agency can approve an application from Public Service Company of New Mexico to transfer its 13 percent ownership share of the Four Corners Power Plant to Navajo Transitional Energy Company and to refinance past investments into the plant with low-interest bonds. Fischmann made these remarks Wednesday, prior to the commission unanimously voting in favor of an order denying the transfer and the refinancing of past investments, but leaving the door open for those to be approved in the future once the PRC has the information it needs to make that decision. This vote came after several hours of deliberation in closed session. “Basically what this does is just ask for some more information on the issues of prudency and on the issues of the replacement portfolio,” Fischmann said. Related: PRC hearing examiner recommends approval of PNM’s Four Corners shares transfer to NTEC

The prudency issue he referenced comes from a 2016 rate case when the PRC deferred a decision on whether investments made into the power plant to keep it open, including installing pollution controls, were prudent.

NM Department of Game and Fish considers stocking hybrid striped bass

Anglers in New Mexico may soon have another fish to catch in a lake near Carlsbad. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is considering stocking Caballo Reservoir with hybrid striped bass, also known as wipers. These bass are a mix between white bass and striped bass and grow quickly, reaching five to 10 pounds. The tough fish can also survive in poor water conditions and a wide range of temperatures. During a public information session on Tuesday, Edward Enriquez, a warmwater fisheries biologist with the department, said the hybrid striped bass is functionally sterile, meaning that its sperm and eggs are malformed.

PRC rejects PNM/Avangrid merger

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission essentially denied the merger between Avangrid and Public Service Company of New Mexico on Wednesday.. The commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to reject the stipulated agreement, following a recommendation from the PRC hearing examiner that the potential risks to customers outweigh the benefits. “This whole deal to me kind of boils down to promises versus actual performance,” Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann said, highlighting Avangrid’s past performance in New England where it owns several utilities and has faced more than $60 million in fines from regulators. PNM and Avangrid promoted the merger as an opportunity to transition faster away from fossil fuels through access to Avangrid’s better credit ratings as well as benefits associated with Avangrid’s scale. Avangrid’s large size could lead to lower costs for equipment because the company would be able to buy in bulk.

PNM and Avangrid request oral arguments in PRC merger case

Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid have asked the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to hear oral arguments prior to making a decision on the merger application. PNM and Avangrid joined a group of intervenors in making this request. The request states that oral arguments would allow critical issues and questions to be addressed and further explained. The PRC hearing examiner has recommended that commissioners reject the merger, stating that the potential harms outweigh the benefits. Last week, three commissioners indicated that they plan to vote against the merger. 

The PRC is scheduled to discuss the request for oral arguments during its meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, which will be livestreamed on YouTube.

PRC commissioners have concerns over Avangrid/PNM merger, as companies defend

Officials from Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid say a pending merger would help the state’s largest electric utility reach renewable energy targets at a faster pace. The two companies hosted a press conference on Thursday following the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission’s discussion the previous day regarding a hearing examiner’s recommendation that the commission deny the merger. 

Three of the five commissioners stated during the Wednesday meeting that they oppose the merger and believe that the potential harms to the customers outweigh the benefits. Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann, who was the first commissioner to express opposition to the merger, said that the main reason to reject it is that Avangrid has an “absolutely horrible record of running U.S. utilities.”

Commissioners Cynthia Hall and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar joined Fischmann in voicing opposition, which is an unusual move for the PRC, as the merger was not scheduled for a vote and the commission must still hear the exceptions in the case presented. 

Related: Hearing examiner says potential harms outweigh benefits in PNM/Avangrid merger

During the Thursday press conference, Attorney General Hector Balderas criticized the commissioners for voicing their opposition prior to the official vote and prior to hearing all the evidence. “Based on the commissioners’ statements yesterday, I am a little concerned that they seem to have implied as jurors that they’re leaning one way or another in terms of making their decision,” he said. During Thursday’s press conference, Balderas also spoke about the importance of transitioning away from fossil fuels and said that the merger could help New Mexico achieve the goals set out in the 2019 Energy Transition Act.