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Power Grab Denied.

In the span of 141 years of climate records, there has never been a warmer January than last month, according to scientists at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.

More notable climate events in the January report

  • Lots of regional heat to go around. Record-warm temperatures.

  • Polar sea ice coverage remained smaller than normal. Arctic sea ice coverage was 5.3 percent below the 1981–2010 average. Antarctic sea ice coverage was the smallest.

  • Snow cover was lacking. Northern Hemisphere snow coverage was below the 1981–2010 average, having the 18th-smallest January snow cover in the 54-year record.

The 2020 Legislative Session has ended and it proved a disappointing one for climate action. As you know community solar died in the Democratically-controlled House. Our assessment is that the Governor didn’t want community solar because of her allegiance to PNM. So in order to address the discord between pressure Brian Egolf was getting from his constituents and the Governor and their O&G/fossil fuels larger funders, his strategy was to join as co-sponsor of the community solar bill and, unlike his strong-arm tactics around the Energy Transition Act (ETA), he chose a “hands-off” demeanor. He tried…This happened with the Memorial to study bonding for O&G to avoid the horrific consequence of “orphaned wells” which was deemed unworthy of debate by Egolf.  (See Land Commissioner’s email below who explains why the Memorial was so important.)

One good thing happened Tuesday and that was that we killed a "top priority" bill for the Governor - to strip the PRC of its staff and house them under her roof. She (through Representative Nathan Small, the "PRC Reorganization" bill’s sponsor, and House sponsor of the ETA) highlighted the corruption of the Commissioners and their frustration with the PRC Commissioners’ for their failure to implement the ETA, as widely reported in the news. However, the bill was about staff - one Republican on the Committee named the “elephant” in the room - that the bill was actually designed to “punish” the PRC, not improve the staff.

The bill’s implementation came at a perfect time for the filing of PNM's next rate case (expected in April/May). If, as the bill proposed, there would’ve been all new staff under the Governor’s new hand-picked appointments then there might be no or inexperienced staff persons to apply scrutiny over the rate request - another potential boondoggle for PNM at the expense of ratepayers.

What’s important to understand is that the ETA gave PNM basically 100% recovery from ratepayers in terms of undepreciated investments (aka “stranded assets”) for ALL their coal, gas, and nuclear investments and clean-up costs. The only slice left for the regulators to actually regulate is over rate increases - this bill sought to answer that question: cutting off the knees of regulatory staff in PNM’s upcoming multiple hundred million dollar rate case. This would have obviously hurt all ratepayers, with the poorest among us being hardest hit.

Thank you to all the people who showed up in opposition to the Governor’s power grab. This bill would have passed had it not been for our collective efforts. Not only was this an alarming attempt to consolidate power by THIS administration - it showed a short-sightedness in terms of the implications for regulation under future administrations. As you know, we worked incredibly hard for 2 years to expose the corrupting influence utility money was having on former Commissioners. The Public Regulation Commission is finally trying to hold the utilities accountable and PNM is pushing back with all the political influence they have. We need to ensure that any remaining authority the PRC has, post ETA, is protected. Our position was: PRC Commissioners, who are elected by the citizens of New Mexico to positions established in the state constitution, are required to determine how much money a monopoly utility is entitled to extract from its customers as compensation for, say, abandoning a plant. To do otherwise violates ratepayers’ fundamental due process rights.

This week, Speaker Egolf decided you would pay for the cost of removing and remediating thousands of miles of radioactive laced pipe, thousands of abandoned wells, and thousands of oil and produced water spills left behind. On state land alone, every New Mexican would need to cover $954 in taxpayer costs to supplement the oil and gas industry's clean up costs.
We tried to ensure you weren't left footing the bill by working with Rep. McQueen and industry to pass House Memorial 29 - a bill to provide a bonding adequacy study to determine what our shortcomings are and make recommendations about how to guarantee financial surety for taxpayers and the Permanent Fund. HM 29 passed its committee and has been waiting to be heard on the House floor. This Sunday, Speaker Egolf informed us that he would NOT allow it to come up for a vote.
The State Land Office hasn't seen an increase in bonding protections in nearly 50 years. Currently, one company can have over 600 leases with thousands of wells, hundreds of miles of pipe, and millions of dollars worth of equipment and only be required to have ONE megabond of $25,000.
The cost of remediating one well is on average $28,000 and that assumes there have been no spills around the site. This one $25,000 megabond is supposed to cover the costs of ALL build out on state land and when it doesn't, you pay the bill.
Right now in New Mexico, we have 711 abandoned wells left by companies who filed for bankruptcy and didn't have the correct bonding. There are another 2,800 inactive wells, 60,000 active wells, and tens of thousands of new wells slated to be developed over the next few years.
One day, sooner rather than later, all of these wells will be orphaned and abandoned.
We owe it to our children and future generations to get this right.
That is why we at the State Land Office will forge ahead despite the legislature failure to act.
We have secured the funding necessary to begin the bonding study and will officially begin the formal rule making process this year to raise our bonding levels on state trust land.
House Memorial 29 would have brought all the stakeholders together to give everyone a voice in keeping all lands safe. We will go forward in protecting New Mexico's trust lands that fund our schools, hospitals and colleges, but the rest of the state remains unprotected. Call Speaker Egolf (505-986-4782) and let him know he needs to pass HM 29 to keep our lands safe.
We hope you will speak out on this issue and join us as we hold protect the trust and our public schools, hospitals, and colleges.

VOTE FOR BEST environmental group, New Energy Economy, at the Santa Fe Reporter:


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