By Steve Terrell The New Mexican |
An advocacy group on Monday filed a lawsuit asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to disqualify four of the five Public Regulation Commission members from voting on a utility company’s plans for the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.
Santa Fe-based New Energy Economy said it has evidence that the four commissioners — Karen Montoya, D-Albuquerque; Patrick Lyons, R-Cuervo; Sandy Jones, D-Williamsburg; and Lynda Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint — are too cozy with Public Service Company of New Mexico.
New Energy Economy claims that the commissioners have “prejudged the outcome of this proceeding prior to the evidentiary hearing.” New Energy is asking the high court to decide on the commissioners’ objectivity before that hearing, which is scheduled for Oct. 13.
In a statement, New Energy Economy said its evidence “includes pervasive, systematic off-the-record communications: email contact, dinners, public statements that indicate that the commissioners have already decided in favor of PNM. …”
In that release, Mariel Nanasi, New Energy Economy’s executive director, said, “New Energy Economy asks the Supreme Court to step in and disqualify biased commissioners, because it is now apparent that we cannot get a fair hearing on the merits. People all across [New Mexico] have expressed exasperation with a regulatory body that appears more interested in protecting the private interests of the very entity it is meant to regulate than defending the public.”
The group last month petitioned the commission itself, asking the four commissioners to recuse themselves from the San Juan case. The commissioners refused, and the hearing officer in the case declined to remove them.
A spokesman for the commission said Monday that the body “would not have a statement at this time, being that this matter is presently before the Supreme Court.” In individual responses to New Energy Economy’s filing with the commission, the four commissioners denied any improper actions in regard to PNM or the controversial San Juan plans.
The only commissioner New Energy Economy is not seeking to disqualify is Valerie Espinoza, D-Santa Fe, who has been publicly critical of PNM’s proposal.
In a statement of its own, PNM said that taking the matter to the high court was “another example of ‘pounding the table’ in a case where the facts and the law do not support its position. This case has been before the PRC for nearly two years, with over 1,000 documents filed. Recently several key parties, including consumer protection and environmental organizations, participated in a collaborative facilitated discussion and agreed to a reasonable solution. Significantly, [New Energy Economy] chose to not participate, and it’s unfortunate the group continues its efforts to divert the discussion away from the real issues in this case.”
PNM proposes to close two of the San Juan plant’s four coal-fired units and replace the lost capacity with more coal-generated power from another unit at the plant, 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 Economy contends that some commissioners have “engaged in extensive ex parte communications with PNM during the course of this proceeding,” and that some “have indicated that they will support PNM’s settlement for the sake of coal jobs in Farmington, which is an unlawful criterion for decision.”
The organization also said Commissioner Lyons has “openly indicated a strong bias against [New Energy Economy] itself.”
This was based on remarks Lyons made to The New Mexican late last year after New Energy Economy’s first attempt to get him off the case because of alleged improper communications with PNM. “They’re a very liberal organization that doesn’t take into consideration the ratepayers of New Mexico,” Lyons told a reporter in December.
Many of New Energy Economy’s complaints about the various commissioners are based on emails from PNM executives writing to one another about conversations they’d had with commissioners. Among the concerns was Montoya soliciting a campaign contribution for a state treasurer candidate from a PNM lobbyist. The group says the emails show weekly meetings between Montoya and PNM officials.
The filing also brings up an incident, mentioned in PNM emails, about Lyons allegedly threatening to withhold his support from bills PNM was pushing in the Legislature because he was upset that PNM’s chief executive officer, Pat Vincent-Collawn, wasn’t backing a transition line in his district. The document also refers to a “series of dinner meetings” between Lyons and Vincent-Collawn, as well as a a “VIP tour” for Lyons of the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona.
New Energy Economy argues that recent public statements made by commissioners Jones and Lovejoy show that their minds are made up on the San Juan case. Both commissioners have disputed the group’s version of those statements.
Removing the four commissioners from the San Juan case would mean there would not be a quorum to vote on it.
New Energy Economy, in its filing, argues that this circumstance is not reason to keep the four commissioners on the case. The group notes that the state Legislature “will shortly be in session [in January] and can address this matter, if it chooses, to remedy it.”
This, the group said, would “avoid the necessity of this court facing a choice between, on the one hand, allowing biased commissioners to decide this enormously important case and, on the other, violating [New Energy Economy’s] and the public’s right to an adjudicative process that is fair, neutral and consistent with due process.”