Dysfunction and a lack of expertise within the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) threaten to undermine the state’s ambitious plan to flip the switch from coal to reenewable power.
The Energy Transition Act — the centerpiece of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda to rein in greenhouse gas emissions — phases out coal, turbocharges solar and wind development, and provides funding to retrain displaced coal plant and mine workers. It has been hailed as one of the strongest climate measures in the country.
But six months after Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law, its success appears jeopardized by the very regulatory body charged with overseeing its implementation.
The powerful commission must vet every aspect of the plan: the closure of the San Juan Generating Station coal plant; the complex financing to pay for decommissioning and worker assistance; and every new energy project that will provide the replacement power. But when the first proposals came before the PRC in July, the commission chose to ignore the new law, leaving the state’s energy transition in limbo. The unusual move has sparked a political furor, pitting the PRC against the governor and Legislature and leading to calls for impeachment of three of the commissioners as well as a proposal by the governor to convert the PRC from an elected body to an appointed one.
The law’s supporters say the commission’s handling of the plan reflects deep dysfunction that could slow the state’s renewables ramp-up and jeopardize aid for displaced workers. Lujan Grisham says she finds the PRC’s actions “baffling” and suspects that long-standing tensions between the commission and Public Service Co.
Next year could be the last time New Mexicans find any candidates for the long-troubled Public Regulation Commission listed on election ballots if voters approve a proposed constitutional amendment that sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support. On Thursday the House passed Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would turn the Public Regulation Commission — which currently consists of five elected members representing different geographical districts — into a three member body whose members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque and Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, passed the House by a vote of 59-8. It previously cleared the Senate by a 36-5 vote. Because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 1 does not need the governor’s signature.
Legislation that provides an outline for regulations of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft is awaiting action by Gov. Susana Martinez—but there is still a possible lengthy process before the rules are in place. After rules imposed last year by the Public Regulation Commission in the absence of legislation, Lyft halted operations in the state and Uber has been operating, some say, illegally. A pending New Mexico Supreme Court case and possible signature by the governor adds some ambiguity to the future of Uber in New Mexico and whether Lyft will resume operations in the state. If signed into law, companies like Uber and Lyft would be regulated separately from taxi companies by the PRC. Martinez’s signature needed
The entire process depends on Martinez signing the legislation, which seems promising given her reaction after the session to the legislation on ride-hailing (which she calls ride-sharing) companies.
Public Regulation Commissioner Valerie Espinoza has been an outspoken critic ride sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, getting separate rules and regulations from cab companies. She has said her biggest concern is the safety of New Mexicans who get rides from these companies. Recently, the PRC ruled that these companies, known as Transportation Network Companies, would have to abide by rules written by the PRC in order to continue operating in New Mexico. Lyft viewed the regulation as too much and Uber is still in the middle of a legal battle with the commission. Espinoza was the only member of the PRC to vote against the new regulations, but because she didn’t think they were extensive enough.
Ken is a self-proclaimed “night owl” who spends many weekends driving around the streets of Albuquerque waiting for someone who needs a ride. A realtor by day, he can make up to $700 in three days pulling double duty driving for Lyft and Uber, two ridesharing services currently operating in Albuquerque. He usually starts his nights driving at 8:00 p.m. and calls it quits around 4:00 a.m. He asked not to reveal his last name out of concern that his personal insurance company would increase his rates for driving for a ridesharing company. Last week Ken, along with other drivers who contract with Lyft, received an email from the company stating the service will no longer be available in Albuquerque. Ken, who has been driving with Lyft for a month, said he is disappointed to see the service go, but the money he makes driving is purely supplemental.
The ridesharing company Uber filed a motion on Monday requesting the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to reconsider an action to regulate the company. In the motion, a local subsidiary of Uber argued that the PRC unfairly grouped Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) into the same category as taxi and limousine companies. Hinter-NM, LLC, in the motion, said if the commission creates more regulation for companies like Uber and Lyft, the should recognize a TNC operates differently than other transportation services. From the motion:
The Transportation Network Company (“TNC”) regulations adopted by the Public Regulation (“Commission”) are fundamentally flawed. The Commission should reconsider rules because they are “unlawful, unjust, [and] unreasonable.”
The full motion is available at the bottom of the post.
On Wednesday morning, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a hand-delivered letter to the state’s Public Regulation Commission urging members to update regulations for ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. The commission’s chair says that the issues have already been addressed, though another commissioner who was critical of the rules adopted said otherwise. The companies, also known as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs, were added by the PRC to the list of transportation companies that are subject to state regulation last week. In his letter to the commission, Balderas said he supported the commission’s action in adding regulations, but that he was concerned with two areas of the new regulation. From the letter:
While I applaud reasonable oversight generally, I have concerns about two areas that may be problematic.
In a meeting on Wednesday, the state Public Regulation Commission voted to regulate ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber. The PRC voted that the services can be regulated under the state Motor Carrier Act like taxi companies, towing companies and other commercial entitties. The regulations refer to the services as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs. However, the PRC did not say that ride-sharing services are the same as taxi companies and instead, created a new set of rules for the ride-sharing companies. The companies have spread throughout the country and currently operate in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.