In November of 2020 a majority of New Mexico citizens voted to amend sections of the New Mexico Constitution governing the Public Regulation Commission(PRC) via a ballot measure that changed the PRC from an elected body to a Governor-appointed body, among other provisions. The appointment of Commissioners is scheduled to commence January 1, 2023.
A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that ballot measure was brought by grassroots indigenous organizations - Three Sisters Collective, Indigenous Lifeways and NM Social Justice and Equity Institute. Indigenous land and people are the first to be sacrificed for dirty energy extraction, whether it is uranium mining, coal plants or fossil fueled hydrogen production, so it is particularly egregious that the right to representation and a voice over energy decisions in New Mexico was stripped away from Native voters when geographic based representation at the PRC was removed. All New Mexicans, especially those most impacted by extractive industries, deserve a voice in their energy future!
The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the ballot measure because it:
1. joined unrelated provisions in one ballot, a concept called logrolling that forces voters who support one part of an amendment to accept other unrelated measures to secure passage of the measure they favor, and
2. misled voters by failing to alert them that the amendment repealed the constitutional right to vote for PRC Commissioners and the constitutional right to representation through geographic, district-based election of PRC Commissioners.
Voters were not clearly informed that the amendment disenfranchised the people of New Mexico, an omission that was no doubt intentional on the part of the ballot authors and the corporate backers of the PAC that spent thousands promoting its passage.
ATTORNEY SARAH SHORE, REPRESENTING THE PLAINTIFFS, TO BE INTERVIEWED TODAY ON THE RICHARD EEDS RADIO SHOW TODAY AT 3:00PM
WHY IS THIS CASE IMPORTANT?
The ballot measure disenfranchised the people of New Mexico without their informed consent and deprived them of representation at the PRC. The Navajo people and the people of northwest New Mexico have suffered most from the extractive industries that dominate their land and must have representation and a voice in choosing utility regulators to protect their interests.
An elected PRC is accountable to the people. Under an appointed commission the people will have no recourse when the PRC makes a bad decision. Everything will be mediated through the Governor’s office. In other states where the Governor appoints the utility commission, energy democracy organizations report having limited access and the people have diminished influence.
Consolidation of power creates increased opportunities for corruption and industry influence. Instead of persuading a majority of New Mexicans, regulated utilities and industries need only to persuade one person, a politician dependent on campaign contributions and industry supporters, to appoint a corrupt commissioner. According to this report by Common Cause and New Mexico Ethics Watch the Governor and the legislature are already awash in money from both PNM and oil and gas. Avangrid and hydrogen industry lobbyists are already salivating at the prospect of unfettered corporate influence at the PRC.
The climate crisis requires both expertise and courageous leadership. The administration’s appointees for environmental regulation and enforcement do not inspire confidence. They have given industry a complete pass, failing to fine or otherwise penalize polluters for repeated violations, promoting false climate solutions like dirty hydrogen, and failing to revoke or reject permits for bad actors.
Regulatory law does require expertise, technical knowledge and judicious objectivity, but this expertise is already provided by the Hearing Examiner, who evaluates and provides a Recommended Decision in each case. The role of the Commission is to bring the people's voices and representative democracy into the decision-making process.
As reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican on June 13th, GOP state Sen. Greg Baca nominated his Republican buddy Alonzo Baldonado for the PRC, who admitted to the reporter “I’m no expert on PRC matters.” The stated purpose of the ballot measure, to appoint “professionally qualified nominees,” has already been proven false before the law has even gone into effect. It is most telling that not a single recommendation of a study conducted at the behest of the legislature to improve the functioning of the PRC was implemented before this ballot measure was proposed. Critics of the PRC never had any intention of improving energy regulation in our state - they only wanted to abolish it.
The gross misrepresentation of the plaintiff's case published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on Friday was simultaneously inaccurate, racist and Fox-news like, equating an effort to restore voting rights and representation unjustly taken from New Mexico voters with Trumpian election denial. We encourage our readers to write Letters to the Editor to defend the plaintiffs and our voting rights!
This legal challenge is the only remedy available to the people to correct this injustice. New Energy Economy stands with the plaintiffs in this case, and with all disenfranchised New Mexicans, in calling for the people's voice to be heard in decisions that will determine our energy future.