The past few days at the legislature have served as a stark reminder of the entrenched power held by utilities and the oil and gas industry in New Mexico. ETA Amendments to reign in corporate exploitation went down on Saturday, and yesterday every single Democrat on the Senate Judiciary committee voted along with Republicans to table SB 86, the produced water amendments.
To quote Senator Mimi Stewart - the bill did not get her vote because it was "a danger to the industry."
The veil was ripped off: there is a stranglehold by oil and gas corporations even when people’s health and welfare is at stake. Senate Judiciary barred members of the Public from comment - counting the presentation of the bill by the Sponsor and experts against the time allocated for proponents. Not a single member of the public present to give comment was permitted to speak - why? Were they afraid to hear the truth of the devastation from this toxic and radioactive waste? Meanwhile, the public opposition was given 10 minutes and fracking company after fracking company was allowed to address the committee.
People are being poisoned by the O&G industry’s poisonous wastewater, the legislators could have halted this abuse, and instead gave industry a pass because of their undue influence at every level of government.
On Saturday, the ETA Amendments to restore PRC oversight and ratepayer protections were tabled. Unfortunately, opponents preyed on the fears of the community and confused legislators, alleging that SB 155 would slow or even jeopardize $40M in funds earmarked for workers and communities affected by closure of the San Juan Generating Station. In fact, the amendments would not affect the timing of plant closure or securitization at San Juan. The amendments did not alter the just transition language in the bill.
As PRC Chairman Fischmann shared during his expert testimony - there is no need to pit renewables, against just transition funding, against the rights of ratepayers to fair, just, and reasonable rates. Economic and environmental justice can and should exist hand and hand.
We were moved by the testimony of AARP in support of the amendments - representing 10s of thousands of members on fixed incomes that will be devastated by unregulated rate increases.
Rather than eliminating regulatory protections and placing the financial burden of the transition 100% on the backs of ratepayers -- we should be demanding accountability from our utilities -- and our regulatory agency should have the authority to decide how much money the utilities can take from captive ratepayers. The utilities should not be able to unilaterally set rates!
Our legislators need to stop capitulating to industry and stop buying in to false choices. Ratepayers should not be thrown under the bus. And impacted communities are deserving of WAY more than the 40 million in the ETA. For example when Arizona Public Service announced closure of its coal plants in 2020, they offered $144M to help three coal country and tribal communities affected - with the utility sharing in the burden. APS is hardly a stand-up utility -- but they were able to do better. They did not need corporate welfare to do the right thing.
Why do New Mexico's lawmakers allow industry to call all the shots?
Senator Soules, who spoke powerfully in support of the amendments, shared a recent report comparing the ETA with similar securitization laws in Montana and Colorado - the verdict -- the ETA does not include regulatory oversight and makes New Mexico one of the lowest ranking states in consumer protections.
We are still reeling from these losses -- it's very painful when corporate power prevails and fear and false choices rule the day. PNM must be popping champagne right now. They can set their own rates and hand it to the PRC for signature, no questions asked. The people who were supposed to represent us deferred to the corporations who stand to profit and to the environmental groups settling.
The dark money awash in our political system has prevailed once again, and a key avenue to address injustice has been closed. With their dark money, the fossil fuel industry buys not only elections, but recently through Constitutional Amendment 1 they just bought their own PRC, the very body that is supposed to govern pipelines and utilities. This situation is predatory, and now more than ever, people of conscience are needed to ensure corporate accountability.
We are grateful to all those who signed on in support, who sponsored these bills, who gave public comment, who emailed and called and wrote Letters to the Editor. We cannot give up. The stakes are too high. Together we will continue to fight for New Mexico's working families by holding corporations accountable and demanding environmental and economic justice for all.