How PNM rewrote Santa Fe’s clean energy resolution to support dirty coal [Read the Internal Emails]

Update, Mon. Dec. 22, 8:00pm :  The Santa Fe New Mexican‘s Daniel Chacon (@danieljchacon) reports that, “under public pressure,” Councilor Bushee will remove language calling for Santa Fe to renew an agreement with PNM:

Under public pressure, City Councilor Patti Bushee removed language calling for a franchise agreement with Public Service Company of New Mexico from a controversial resolution she is sponsoring.“It’s turned into a red herring, so I’m happy to remove it,” she said Monday…

Bushee said City Attorney Kelley Brennan had advised her to include the franchise agreement language in the resolution, which Brennan denied.
“I urged you not to include negotiation of the franchise in the draft,” Brennan wrote in an email to Bushee on Monday. “You wished to retain it, to be consistent with the Minneapolis process you were using as your model, which was triggered by the upcoming termination date of their franchise agreements. I have verified this with [Melissa Byers, the city’s legislative liaison], who was a party to that conversation and shares my memory of it.”
Bushee’s announcement came the same day that ProgressNow New Mexico, a liberal-leaning group based in Albuquerque, released emails obtained through a public records request showing that PNM had a heavy hand in drafting the ordinance.
Bushee acknowledged that PNM played a role in crafting the resolution, but that it was hers and hers alone.

“There’s just a lot of reactionary misinformation and mischaracterization,” Bushee said.

We will provide additional updates as the story develops.The original story is posted below.

Monday Dec. 22, 10:30am — In 2013, President Barack Obama launched the country’s most sweeping action yet to combat climate change.

Through a package of executive orders targeted at reducing greenhouse gasses and encouraging renewable energy growth he laid out an aggressive plan and called on his former campaign apparatus, now known as Organizing For America, to take action to call out polluters and climate deniers at the local level.

While many OFA supporters jumped into action to make that happen, the president’s former top campaign official in New Mexico took on a surprisingly different role: organizing to protect the soon to be expanding fossil fuel portfolio of one of New Mexico’s largest producers of greenhouse gases.

Santa Fe Plans to ‘Unplug’ from PNM

Javier Gonzales was elected mayor of Santa Fe in 2014.  Having campaigned on a diverse platform that included making Santa Fe more environmentally friendly, Gonzales set to work creating a citizen-led Climate Action Task Force with the mandate to examine Santa Fe’s environmental impact and propose ways to diminish its negative footprint.

City Councilor Peter Ives soon announced plans to propose that Santa Fe ‘unplug’ from PNM’s grid and create its own municipal power system with a greater reliance on renewable energy and subsidies to help low-income households employ more renewable energy.   Mayor Gonzales explained the move to the Santa Fe Reporter:

While a portion of PNM’s power comes from renewables, Gonzales says Santa Fe wants more solar. 

“I want to deliver a solar project to this community,” said Gonzales, “one that dedicates at least 20 percent of its resources to low-income renters who can’t easily access solar power, due to its cost, and the fact that they don’t own homes.

”The mayor mentioned that PNM is pledging 16 22-electric vehicle charging stations for electric cars to be placed throughout Santa Fe. Yet, Gonzales says he’s ready for the city to start figuring out how a municipal power authority would function without the company. “We need to pursue our own efforts in finding a solution,” he said. 

Santa Fe Reporter, Nov. 3, 2014

At the same time, PNM announced its intent to purchase a huge coal mine to provide fossil-fuels to burn in the San Juan (coal-fired) Generating Plant for years to come.

Public Service Company of New Mexico’s negotiations to buy a coal mine near Farmington are drawing the ire of activists concerned that the purchase could continue the power company’s dependence on coal for years to come — and from a mine already facing intense scrutiny over environmental issues.

-Santa Fe New Mexican, Nov. 30, 2014

With so much invested in a fossil-fuel future, Santa Fe’s proposal to unplug from PNM threatens PNM’s bottom line and creates greater public pressure on PNM to divest from dirty sources of energy more quickly.

To do that, PNM needed a local voice who could advocate for their interests with progressive leaders not inclined to support more profits and expanding fossil-fuel portfolio.  PNM needed an organizer and they found Ray Sandoval to fill the job.

For PNM, hiring Sandoval was a smart move. Ray Sandoval was state director for Obama’s historic 2008 campaign, leading the president to a resounding victory in the Land of Enchantment.  Since then, Sandoval has run other Democratic campaigns and stayed active in civic organizations in Santa Fe. For PNM, Sandoval brings an impressive resume and a rolodex of Democratic leaders who will take his call.  And that is important in Santa Fe where Democrats enjoy a solid majority among elected officials.

PNM Pushes Back

In liberal Santa Fe, green energy is as popular as green chile. Residents regularly turn out for climate action events and the local Santa Fe Reporter regularly writes about PNM’s dismal environmental record and growing fossil-fuel portfolio.

Those Santa Fe values don’t match with PNM’s vision to buy a coal mine to keep its coal-fired plant running and the Gonzales/Ives proposal to unplug from PNM all together isn’t good business.  But PNM found another city councilor willing to outsource her legislative authority to their staff.

According to the background statements from Councilor Patti Bushee’s proposed resolution, PNM signed a contract to provide utility services, called a franchise agreement, with the City of Santa Fe way back in 1974.  Changes in state law eventually made that agreement null but PNM has continued to provide power to city residents without opposition.

The new proposal to create a local power company threatens PNM.

Emails obtained through public records requests by ProgressNow New Mexico show that PNM proposed that their ally, City Councilor Patti Bushee, propose her own “Clean Energy” ordinance that would include a renewal of PNM’s local franchise agreement with Santa Fe, closing down the city’s plan to unplug for decades and committing Santa Fe residents to decades more coal-powered power.

On December 2, Ray Sandoval, now working for PNM, sent Councilor Bushee and a city staffer responsible for drafting the new resolution a sample of a franchise agreement between Xcel Energy and the City of Minneapolis which PNM hoped would serve as a model for a new Santa Fe franchise agreement.

email

Less than a week later, at 2:08 pm on December 8, the city staffer drafting the resolution sends a draft to Councilor Bushee, Ray Sandoval at PNM and others.

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But PNM got special consideration in the way the resolution was drafted.

Eight minutes later, the staffer sends Bushee a private message (not to others in the original thread), saying that she is waiting on PNM’s comments to proceed.

Councilor:I just talked to Ray Sandoval…he will send back comments on the resolution as soon as PNM has reviewed (sic).

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The next morning, Sandoval (from his personal email) emailed Councilor Bushee PNM’s preferred draft of the ordinance title and supporting statements, sometimes called ‘Whereas’ or ‘Therefore’ statements, which PNM, presumably, wanted to be used in lieu of existing resolution language drafted by city staff:

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Later that afternoon, a new version of the resolution is sent around, this time including PNM’s changes to the title and therefore statements.

In a nod to the influence of PNM in this process, the staffer includes a note that she will “call Ray now” and then follow up with Councilor Bushee:

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The next version, out on December 9th and heavily edited by PNM, reflected almost all of PNM’s proposed changes and eliminated all references to Santa Fe’s resolutions calling for renewable energy or action against fossil-fuels:

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(left to right: Dec 8 draft, PNM’s edits sent back to Councilor Bushee, PNM language in the final, Dec. 9, version)

Councilor Bushee’s next version incorporated almost every one of PNM’s edits.

PNM deleted every reference to the City of Santa Fe’s other resolutions requiring a reduction in reliance on fossil fuels, calling on Congress to enact fines and fees on carbon polluters (like PNM) and the city’s resolution requiring it to move towards becoming carbon neutral in 2040 (something the city could never do using PNM’s carbon-heavy energy portfolio).

Original:
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PNM’s edits removing reference to anti-fossil fuel goals (from Ray Sandoval’s email to Bushee and others):

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Final version incorporating PNM’s rewrites:

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Other emails show PNM picking the members of the proposed task force (they suggested two of the members to be PNM’s own Ray Sandoval and a PNM vice president) to negotiate a new long-term franchise agreement with PNM.

PNM even helped Councilor Bushee respond to media inquiries about her proposal.

When KRQE’s Tina Jensen asked Bushee to comment on her new “clean energy task force,” she appears to ask PNM’s Ray Sandoval, “Do you know her?”

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Sandoval replies by sending Councilor Bushee PNM’s talking points just before the reporter’s 2pm deadline:

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Councilor Bushee is now pushing her “Climate Protection Action Plan” through the council’s legislative process.

But Bushee has not explained to the public or her constituents how she let PNM write and rewrite this ordinance to meet their own goal of securing a decades-long franchise agreement to lock the city into PNM’s growing fossil-fuel portfolio for years to come.

This public records project shows that PNM is actively working to organize against the city’s progressive municipal power plan.  By hiring political organizers and working hand-in-hand with city officials, PNM wiped away any mention of Santa Fe’s long history of advocating for action on climate change and against major polluters like PNM itself.

Concerned about PNM snookering the city into a multi-million dollar deal to subsidize it’s fossil-fuel plans?  Contact Councilor Bushee and the City Council and ask them to put a stop to PNM’s plan.

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View all of the emails between Councilor Bushee, Ray Sandoval at PNM and city staffers drafting the bill:

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