$215K approved for PRC officials' defense in San Juan case

The PRC has approved the spending of nearly $215,000 to represent four PRC commissioners in the bias case going before the New Mexico supreme court

From the Santa Fe New Mexican: 

Updated 15 hours ago

The state Public Regulation Commission has approved spending nearly $215,000 on lawyers to represent four commission members an alternative-energy advocacy group is trying to have removed from deliberations over the aging San Juan Generating Station.

The case, pending before the state Supreme Court, will bring together two of the state’s highest-profile political lawyers: Sam Bregman, a past state Democratic Party chairman, and Pat Rogers, a Republican National Committee member.

While the two are rivals — Rogers is one of the GOP lawyers suing Bregman and other Democrats for distributing emails belonging to Gov. Susana Martinez — they will be sitting together at the defense table on Nov. 9 when the high court hears arguments in the case filed by New Energy Economy.

“In litigation, things like this happen,” said Bregman, who will represent Commissioner Karen Montoya, D-Albuquerque. “That’s just the way it goes.”

Rogers, who will defend Commissioner Patrick Lyons, R-Cuervo, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Attorney Scott Fuqua of Santa Fe will defend Commissioner Linda Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint, and Charles Peifer of Albuquerque will represent Commissioner Sandy Jones, D-Williamsburg.

New Energy claims the four elected regulators have shown bias toward Public Service Company of New Mexico and can’t be trusted to make a fair decision on PNM’s plans for the coal-fired power plant near Farmington.

Well before the lawyers were hired, all four commissioners strongly denied any conflict of interest or improper dealings with PNM.

If the Supreme Court rules that the four commissioners — or even just three of them — can’t participate, that could sink the utility’s proposal for the power plant. The five-member commission needs at least three members for a quorum.

The only commissioner not part of the suit is Valerie Espinoza, D-Santa Fe, who has been critical of PNM’s plans to close two of the San Juan plant’s four coal-fired units and replace the lost capacity with more coal-generated power, as well as natural gas from a proposed new nearby facility, nuclear power from the Palo Verde plant in Arizona and a small percentage of solar power.

New Energy, which is dedicated to ending reliance on coal to generate electricity, alleges the targeted commissioners have “engaged in extensive ex parte communications with PNM during the course of this proceeding.” The group also claims that some commissioners “have indicated that they will support PNM’s settlement for the sake of coal jobs in Farmington, which is an unlawful criterion for a decision.” The group also has documented public statements that it claims show some commissioners already have made up their minds in favor of PNM.

The email lawsuit involving Bregman and Rogers was filed in federal court in June 2014 a few days after Jamie Estrada, a former campaign manager for Martinez, pleaded guilty to hijacking an email account belonging to the governor. The suit, filed on behalf of two former Martinez staffers and two other Republicans whose emails were released to the public, said Bregman and his co-defendants violated federal privacy protections by their involvement in intercepting and disclosing email from the governor’s account.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at tinyurl.com/roundhouseroundup.

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