Protests and dissent as EIB looks at rolling back environmental protections

By Matthew Reichbach

As the Environmental Improvement Board looks at rolling back environmental rules instituted under former Governor Bill Richardson, protesters from the Occupy Movement and environmental groups have made their voices heard opposing the changes.

The existing environmental rules that the Martinez-appointed board is considering repealing relate to carbon dioxide emissions. Industry groups including Public Service Company of New Mexico (also known as PNM) and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, back the repeal of the rules.

Occupy Santa Fe attended the hearing and used a “mic check” to have their voices heard.

During the “mic check,” which involves a large group repeating what one person says to amplify the speech without using megaphones, the Occupy protesters talked about concerns with coal-fired power plants.

“Coal burning electricity causes cancer, asthma, neurological disorders and lung disease,” the protesters said. “Elders and children are most at risk.”

David Van Winkle, Energy Chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, testified at the meeting and urged the EIB to not to roll back the environmental protections.

“The existing fleet of fossil fuel based electricity energy sources, specifically coal-fired power plants like the San Juan Generating Station produce significant air pollution,” Van Winkle told the EIB according to a transcript sent by the Sierra Club. “While pollution reduction improvements have been realized at San Juan due to the 2005 Consent Decree actions, carbon and nitrogen oxide pollution continue at high levels.”

Van Winkle urged renewable resources, including solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency as better ways to “serve [the] energy needs” of New Mexico.

A study by New Energy Economy, an environmental organization, found that, “Far from being costly for consumers and the New Mexico economy, we find that the compliance scenario creates jobs and saves money for electricity consumers while reducing greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions in New Mexico. In our estimation, implementing such a compliance scenario would help to mitigate future increases in electricity bills in New Mexico.”

Industry groups say that complying with the new environmental rules would significantly increase the cost of electricity in New Mexico and that cost would be passed on to consumers.

Interim Watch: Uranium Industry Makes Big Pitch to Resume NM Mining Operations

By Charlotte Chinana

As state officials look for ways to stimulate New Mexico’s economy and create more jobs, supporters of efforts to restart uranium mining operations in the state were handed a stage to make their pitch to legislators at this week’s meeting of the Economic and Rural Development Interim Committee in Grants.

And according to a panel devoted to the subject, prospects for the industry couldn’t be rosier as their key following talking points did attest:

  • New Mexico’s uranium reserves are among the richest in the nation – 2nd only to Wyoming;
  • The nuclear energy industry’s safety record is the “Best of any industry in the history of the world;” and
  • “The future is fairly optimistic for uranium (mining) in New Mexico”

New Mexico’s uranium rich reserves

According to the industry speakers, New Mexico has one of the richest uranium deposits in the United States, which “creates a lucrative opportunity to resume mining operations,” projected to “create thousands of jobs.”

“The world demand for uranium would double if the proposed nuclear reactors are built,” said Barbara Brazil, Deputy Secretary of the state’s Economic Development Department. According to estimates from the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are currently 440 operational reactors in the world – 104 of which are located across the United States.

“The U.S. consumes 20% of the world’s energy,” added John Bemis, Secretary-designee of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department. “This is the world as we know it today…everybody needs to remember that we need uranium to fuel those nuclear plants.”

Not addressed in any detail were a couple of none too rosy “economic opportunity caveats”:

  • Industry estimates that the state’s uranium reserves will be worth approximately $31 billion dollars are based on economic assumptions that the price per pound of uranium would hold steady at $90 to $100 per pound over a 30 year period. However, a more likely scenario is that the price will fluctuate.  The laws of supply and demand can be a pesky critters. For example, in 2000 the price per pound of uranium was $6 – and as of July 25 of this year, the uranium price per pound was $51.50.
  • Metal mining in the state doesn’t have the best track record in terms of economic stability. According to a 2008 report prepared for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, the state has been through many copper mining boom and bust cycles, as well as one previous uranium boom and bust cycle (circa 1948 – early 1980s).

Also, another hardly insignificant issue touched on with regard to NM’s uranium reserves was the potential jurisdictional issues that can arise. Some of “the state’s” uranium deposits are located on Indigenous lands.

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Groups to take Martinez administration to court over building code rollback

By Matthew Reichbach

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center announced Monday that a group including small businesses and energy efficiency groups are challenging the rollback of energy conservation building codes.

The action comes a month after the State Construction Industries Commission voted 7-1 to roll back the energy efficiency building codes.

Clearly New Mexico reported on the June 10 vote to roll back the energy efficiency building codes to the levels that they were at in 2009, the lowest possible to still receive funding from the Department of Energy.

“The Construction Industries Commission and the Construction Industries Division appear to have taken this action despite the absence of evidence supporting repeal of the energy conservation codes” said NMELC attorney and Executive Director Douglas Meiklejohn in a statement Monday. “We hope that the Court of Appeals will determine that decisions such as these must be supported by evidence in the record.”

One bone of contention is the process used to vote on the building codes.

Shrayas Jatkar of the Sierra Club New Mexico said in the public comment portion of the Construction Industries Commission meeting last month that there was a “stark difference” between the process used to roll back the building codes and the process that led to the building codes changes in December of 2010.

“It took 14 months to develop the code last time around and there were open meetings,” Jatkar told Clearly New Mexico in a short interview. The decision to roll back the energy efficiency building codes happened six months after Susana Martinez took office and replaced members of the commission.

The appeals were, according to a press release by NMELC, filed by NMELC “for Environment New Mexico, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Sundancer Creations Custom Builders, LLC, eSolved, Inc., and several individuals who supported the adoption of the codes promulgated in 2010.”

The codes would reduce energy use by about 20 percent.

Martinez’s administration said the codes were too costly for builders to implement and that would be passed on to property owners. The lawsuit says there is no evidence supporting the action that the Construction Industries Commission took.

“The Construction Industries Commission and the Construction Industries Division appear to have taken this action despite the absence of evidence supporting repeal of the energy conservation codes” said Douglas Meiklejohn, NMELC attorney and Executive Director, in a statement. “We hope that the Court of Appeals will determine that decisions such as these must be supported by evidence in the record.”

Interim Leg Watch: Energy Industry Wants Less Regulations, More Incentives

By Charlotte Chinana

“You’re preaching to the choir…we need to put people back to work – we need to put people back in [the] uranium mines.”

~ Sen. David Ulibarri (D – Grants) commenting on (while simultaneously commending) presentations from representatives from the mining, oil and gas industries in NM.

The interim Economic and Rural Development Committee recently held their July meetings (in Tucumcari and Santa Rosa), and I had the opportunity to take a little “legislative road trip” to sit in on a couple of agenda items – namely the “Energy Panel: Update on Projects, Tax Incentives and Laws and Regulations That Are Helping or Hurting Industry,” and the “Oil and Gas Energy Report.”

During the committee hearing, industry panelists took a moment to mention what their companies have done and/or will do for New Mexico – with regards to the number of jobs created and payments made to the state (by way of taxes, fees and royalties); they also spent the bulk of their presentations outlining what the state can (additionally) do for industry – specifically related to relaxing (if not entirely eliminating) regulations, while providing more incentives to do business in the state.

The Energy Panel Updates

Representatives from two of the state’s utility providers, Xcel Energy (an electric and natural gas company that operates in eight states – including NM), and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association (a wholesale electric power producer/supplier that serves 44 rural electric cooperatives and public power districts in four states – with 12 in NM), spoke extensively about the reliability of service provided by their companies, as well as the importance of cost containment measures.

While each highlighted the need to keep and utilize a diverse energy portfolio, it was stressed that the companies pretty much only added solar and wind, because they were mandated to do it.

Sonia Phillips, the NM State Affairs Manager from Xcel Energy, noted the cost difference in terms of solar production, using the example that it costs her company about 13 cents to generate a kilowatt of solar, vs. 2 or 3 cents to generate that same kilowatt – using coal. Phillips also said that some “basic, good incentives” would be nice which, according to a handout from her company, would include:

  • Expedited permitting;
  • Transmission cost recovery riders;
  • Clean energy improvement riders; and
  • Less regulatory lag (as regulatory lag increases investment risk)

Sen. Clinton Harden (R – Clovis) asked if NM’s current electricity demands were being met, to which Phillips replied “yes,” and elaborated that utility companies in the state are meeting the demand “92% of the time.”

Phillips then when on to mention that her company has “customers who want power when they want it” – as part of a pitch for an investment in infrastructure modifications to the power grid/s that the state uses (which were built in the 70s), and that “customers have been able to enjoy low rates for over 35 years” – related to possible, future rate increases.

Rhonda Mitchell, from Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, added that her company was doing what it can to educate their co-op members about the rising cost of energy production and transmission (i.e. why customers can expect to pay more), though it was unclear as to whether or not said education equally emphasizes energy conservation.

As for the reliability factor, she added that:  “Sometimes, we do too good of a job in being reliable … people [can] take it for granted.”

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Navajo Nation Public Hearing on Energy Policy

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

The location for last night’s public hearing on the Navajo Nation’s proposed energy policy was fitting for political theatrics – held at the UNM Student Union Building’s theater, the stage was set for Navajo Nation officials to make their case for the energy policy as currently drafted.

The document at the center of discussion was the draft of the Navajo Nation Energy Policy, completed June 20th, 2011 (see copy of draft here). The UNM meeting was the last of the public hearings on the policy, meetings meant to gather public input on the draft.

The Attorney General for the Navajo Nation, Harrison Tsosie, reminded the audience that this document was not a law, regulation or statute. “Instead, this policy is to serve as a vision statement for Navajo leaders and for the outside world, to then guide future decisions and laws and to ensure that in the future the Federal Government is not deciding the direction of our Dine’ people.”

There have been four prior attempts to develop such an energy policy by the Navajo Nation, with the only document that made it past draft stage being the 1980 policy. The current administration, under President Ben Shelly has made energy policy a priority.

The document supports development of renewable energy, with Navajo Nation officials admitting that in the past years there has been no clear direction, and therefore, no significant strides in this realm.

Coal and uranium appear to be the biggest points of contention in the draft policy, judging from the audience members who spoke during the public response section of the hearing.

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Commission votes to roll back energy efficiency building codes

By Matthew Reichbach

The New Mexico Construction Industries Commission voted to roll back energy efficiency standards in building codes Friday afternoon. The 7-1 vote came after a lengthy executive session.

The vote rolls back energy efficient building codes after a short process. There were four options for public comment on the new changes in four cities on one day throughout the state. The vote was in the first meeting of the commission since it was largely replaced by members selected by Gov. Susana Martinez.

The codes that the commission voted to end were the result of more than a year of work, including public comment, under the Bill Richardson administration.

Builders were split on the idea of whether or not to back the changes to the building codes, the Associated Press reported earlier this month.

New Mexico Home Builders Association CEO Jack Milarch said he supported a repeal of the codes.

Meanwhile, Kim Shanahan, executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, said changing the rules now would only require more stringent measures as a catch-up down the road

Commissioner Patrick Casey of Silver City was the lone commissioner to vote against the codes.

The code rolls back building codes to the lowest possible for New Mexico to receive stimulus funds from the Department of Energy. These are the codes that were in place in 2009.

The decision to roll back the energy efficiency codes came from Gov. Susana Martinez’s Small Business Task Force which Clearly New Mexico found “dominated by long-time lobbyists for large corporations” and not small business owners.

This seemingly comes from a recommendation in the midpoint of the Small Business Task Force to “bring compliance back down to the levels of international code.”

The energy efficiency code rollback was introduced by Kevin Yearout who sat on the task force. Yearout and his wife each donated $5,000 to Martinez’s campaign and Yearout Mechanical donated an additional $10,000 to her successful gubernatorial campaign.

The commission is filled with almost completely different members from when Richardson was in office. Dale Dekker, an Albuquerque architect, was the only member of the commission who is a holdover from Richardson’s administration. Dekker donated $500 to Martinez’s campaign.

Public comment was limited to two minutes per person and five minutes per commenter.

J. Dee Dennis Jr., Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent appointed by Martinez, supported the change. He also served on Martinez’s Small Business Task Froce

Shrayas Jatkar of the Sierra Club New Mexico said there was a “stark difference” from the process last year to this year. He criticized the commission for not discussing the changes before voting.

“It took 14 months to develop the code last time around and there were open meetings,” Jatkar told Clearly New Mexico in a short interview.

“This time there was no reading of the number of public comments registered,” Jatkar said, whereas last time the codes were changed they read out loud how many people supported the changes to the codes and how many opposed the changes.

“This is how public policy in New Mexico is being developed at this point in the new administration,” he said, “without any actual thoughtful consideration of public input.”

Chairman Baker briefly made comments before the vote on how difficult the decision was for the commission.

“We’ve had some discussion of trying to figure out exactly what the best decision is for the New Mexico code,” Baker said and noted that the changes will “long outlast us.”

When Richardson moved to strengthen the energy efficiency codes it took 14 months and involved a committee that had a number of builders, including representatives for the New Mexico Home Builders Association.

Executive sessions are used when discussing sensitive matters and the public is cleared from the room. The executive session lasted more than two hours during Friday’s meeting and caused about one-third of the 60 or so attendees to leave.

Rescind, Revise, Repeal: Read This if You Care About Clean Water, Air and Land in New Mexico

 

By Tracy Dingmann

Back in February, we did an Inspection of Public Records Request of Gov. Susana Martinez’s office that revealed documents showing that her “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” is packed with big-industry lobbyists who carry a distinctly anti-regulatory agenda.

 

Included in the documents was a “mid-point report” from the task force that contained a number of startling recommendations for the Governor regarding drastic rollbacks of environmental and construction rules.

The task force is due to issue a full report of recommendations to the Governor on April 1.

But just recently, our request yielded even more documents from another state agency that went into even greater detail about what the group wants the Governor to do about some very specific and crucial regulations.

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Another One Of Those Small Business-Friendly Tactics?

By Tracy Dingmann

A bill that would bar the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board from making any greenhouse gas rules that are more stringent than federal law is making its way through Senate committees.

The bill, SB 489, sponsored by Clinton Harden, (R-Clovis), would not reverse the two carbon cap proposals that were approved in the waning days of the Richardson Administration. Those proposals drew strong opposition from the oil and gas industry and from Gov. Susana Martinez, who vowed during her campaign to reverse them if elected governor.

(A few weeks ago, Clearly New Mexico learned that Gov. Martinez had appointed a Small Business-Friendly task force filled with representatives of the oil and gas industry and other large corporate interests to evaluate regulations like the carbon caps. The group made it clear that rolling back regulations was their number one priority, and discussed a number of strategies to accomplish this that included legislation, executive orders, and other tactics.)

Though SB 489 wouldn’t reverse the current caps, it would severely hamper New Mexico’s ability to protect its environment in the future, opponents say.

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Are You Sitting Down? Here Are The Recommendations From The Gov’s “Small Business-Friendly” Task Force

Gov. Susana Martinez

By Tracy Dingmann

When Gov. Susana Martinez wrote an executive order on Jan. 1 halting all pending state regulations and creating a “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” to review them, the group had 90 days to come up with a plan.

Ostensibly, the task force was to consider each regulation and rule on its merits and then submit a fair and balanced report to the governor by April 1, detailing which rules the state could keep or scrap.

Except that’s not what’s been going on.

Meeting in Secret, With an Agenda

The members of the “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” were named in secret and have been meeting in secret. Only by filing an open records request under state law have we been able to find out who is on the task force and what it is meeting about.

Through documents gained from our request, we learned the task force does not represent New Mexico’s small business community. Instead, it is packed with large-business people and lobbyists from industries that gave big to the Martinez campaign – and who have been fighting back hard against pending state regulations.

The internal documents show members were never inclined to keep any of the regulations – in fact, they are focused on devising tactics the Martinez administration can use to eliminate each one.

The Mid-Point Report

Our request turned up one particularly fascinating document – a “mid-point report” dated Feb. 18 that, based on its unguarded language, was decidedly not intended to be shared outside the Gov’s office.

From the preamble:

“The task force does not wish to present a laundry list of problems to the Governor but develop solutions (sic). The goal is to provide the Governor and/or agencies cover when repealing or revising a rule or regulation thus avoiding litigation if possible.

The final report to the Governor will include a road map of short and long-term tactics and strategies, including the use of executive orders and legislative strategies. Each troublesome regulation identified will be accompanied by a recommendation on the best way to remove their negative impacts (sic).”

The report says the task force decided to focus on two areas of regulation: construction and the environment. Specifically, the task force wants to focus on regulations in the Environment Department, the Energy, Natural Resources and Minerals Department and the Division of Game and Fish, as they are “having the most impact on economic development and the will determine (sic) the best approach to rescind or revise the troublesome rules/regulations.”

Singled out as examples of “onerous legislation” are the “Pit Rule” and the “Enforcement and Compliance Rule,” both of which apply to and have been extremely unpopular with the oil and gas industry in New Mexico.

Here’s what else is in the report:

  • The task force doesn’t want New Mexico to do any more than what’s required by the federal government.

From the report:

“The first motion of the Small Business Task Force was to propose that state rules and regulations across the board be no more stringent than federal requirements and to correct any rule or regulation that requires more regulation than federal standards.”

  • The task force recommends that the Economic Development Department develop a secret “whistleblower complaint log and phone-based hotline” for businesses who want to complain privately about NMED enforcement of rules and regulations.

From the report:

“Companies often do not want to be seen as “troublemakers” by filing public complaints. If they do have complaints about NMED, this would ensure that companies would have confidentiality if they make complaints about departmental policies or practices through the whistleblower program. The EDD Office of Business Advocacy would administer this program and investigate complaints.”

  • In what sounds awfully ominous for mid-level classified employees, the task force says it has found that even in cases where exempt department heads have been removed, those pesky classified employees who have to actually enforce the rules (and who can’t be fired without cause) are undoubtably going to let their “anti-business agenda” stand in the way of the kind of rollback they are looking at. The task force plans to come up with ways to “mitigate” that, the report says.

From the report:

“Beyond changing a rule or regulation is the enforcement and handling of regulations and rules, particularly with permitting, by mid-level classified employees. An overarching theme we have observed is working with mid-level classified managers at NMED and other departments who still have an anti-business agenda despite changes in leadership at the department level. The committee is looking for ways to mitigate this situation.”

What Else?

Here are the other recommendations from the task force:

  • Removing New Mexico from the Western Climate Initiative, a group which advocates for a coordinated Western effort to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Removing the New Mexico only “cap-and-tax.” This refers to a set of carbon emission rules that the state adopted late in the Richardson administration after an advisory board considered nearly two years worth of public and expert testimony.
  • Working with other western governors to “delay the adoption of new air standards.”
  • Having the New Mexico Environment Department develop a fast-track environmental permit process to mitigate complaints from businesses
  • Repealing, modifying or replacing the regulatory amendment implementing the collective bargaining wage rate scheme for prevailing wages provided for in 2009 amendments to the Public Works Minimum Wage Act, also known as SB 33.
  • Looking at state building codes to identify ways to “bring compliance back down to the levels of international code.”
  • Combining and reducing the number of construction permits required.

Public Records Request Shows Gov’s “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” Met In Secret; Is Packed With Lobbyists for Oil and Gas, Mining and Dairy

Gov. Susana Martinez

By Tracy Dingmann

When Susana Martinez assumed the office of Governor on Jan. 1, she faced a clear choice. Would she protect New Mexico’s clean land, water and air by fighting to keep environmental regulations strong – or would she instead focus her energies on stalling, relaxing and eliminating regulations for certain wealthy, mostly out-of-state industries who contributed generously to her campaign?

New Mexico’s new Governor chose the latter course. Minutes after she took office, Gov. Martinez issued an executive order that halted all pending or proposed rules and regulations for 90 days and created a “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” to evaluate the rules for their “workability and reasonableness and (to) determine whether they are proper and necessary.” During the next 90 days, she said, the task force would decide which rules hampered small businesses in New Mexico.

Details were scarce about how Gov. Martinez defined “small business,” but in her State of the State speech, she spoke of wanting to help “mom and pop shops:”

“The big corporations have teams of lawyers and accountants to help them. It’s the small businesses – the mom and pop shops – the small start ups that get lost in the layers of red tape. We will help them, and in doing so, send a loud and clear message that New Mexico is open for business.”

At the 45-day mark with no word from the Governor, we started to wonder – How was that “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” coming along? Who’s on it, and when has it met? What has it discussed and what kind of changes is it looking to recommend?

We asked the Governor’s office nicely, but got nowhere, so we were forced to file an Inspection of Public Records request to get the answers. (More about that later).

This Is Small Business?

The list of members provided by the Department of Economic Development shows that the Governor’s “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” is dominated by long-time lobbyists for large corporations, including big dairy, which contributed thousands of dollars to Martinez’s campaign; and the oil, gas and natural gas industry from in and outside the state, which gave her hundreds of thousands. Both industries have huge economic stakes in keeping New Mexico regulations at bay.

The companies represented by lobbyists on the “small business” task force include oil and gas producers and distributors from Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Colorado; copper, gold and uranium mining companies from Arizona; a payday loan company based in Georgia and a giant tobacco company from North Carolina.

The seven lobbyists on the task force are:

TJ Trujillo

At the Roundhouse, Trujillo represents Biotechnology Industry Organization, BP America, Inc., Community Loans of America, Inc., County of Grant, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, Dell, Inc., El Paso Corporation, Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold, Gallagher and Kennedy, PA, Hewlett-Packard Company, Hunt Transmission Services, New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Alliance, Occidental Petroleum Corp., DBA Occidental Permian LTD, OXY USA Inc., RAI Services Company (Formerly Reynolds American Inc.), Ruidoso Downs Racing, Inc., Ruidoso Jockey Club and State Farm Insurance Companies.

Here’s some help deciphering his client list:

  • Biotechnology Industry Organization is a Washington, D.C – based company that refers to itself as the world’s largest biotechnology organization.
  • BP America is a Houston-based oil and gas company (yes, that BP).
  • Community Loans of America is an Atlanta-based payday loan company.
  • Dairy Producers of New Mexico represents farms in New Mexico – a state which has some of the largest and most dense factory farms in the nation. Trujillo and the dairy group came under fire earlier this year when emails showed Trujillo, an attorney, and Walter Bradley, a former Lt. Gov and fellow lobbyist for the dairy association, were involved in helping write the executive order halting the regulations and creating the task force to review them.
  • The El Paso Corporation owns North America’s largest natural gas pipeline system and is one of North America’s largest independent natural gas producers. It is based in Colorado.
  • Freeport McMoran is an Arizona-based mining company that is the world’s largest producer of copper, gold and molybdenum and the leading manufacturer of copper strip, cadmium copper, copper wire and bars.
  • Hunt Transmission Services is a Dallas-based company that develops and acquires electric and pipeline transmission and distribution assets.
  • Occidental Petroleum is a Houston-based oil and gas company.
  • RAI Services Company (formerly Reynolds American) is a North Carolina-based tobacco company.

Karin Foster

At the Roundhouse, Foster represents Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Energen, Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, KFoster Associates, Shell Oil Company and Shell Wind Energy.

  • Chesapeake Energy is an Oklahoma-based producer of oil and natural gas – the country’s second largest.
  • Energen is a Farmington-based oil and gas company.
  • Shell Oil Company is a Houston-based oil company.

Minda McGonagle

At the Roundhouse, McGonagle represents: Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, American Council of Life Insurers, National Federation of Independent Business, Neutron Energy, Inc., New Mexico Chapter/American Subcontractors Association, Veterans and Fraternal Non-Profit Clubs of New Mexico, Inc.

  • Ajinomoto Food Ingredients is a company based in Chicago.
  • The American Council of Life Insurers is a lobbying group based in Washington D.C.
  • The National Federation of Independent Businesses is based in Nashville.
  • Neutron Energy is a privately held uranium exploration and development company based in Arizona.

Carla Sonntag

Sonntag represents the National Utility Contractors Association of New Mexico, New Mexico Business Coalition and the New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance.

Caren Cowen

Cowen represents the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and the New Mexico Wool Growers.

Gary Tonjes

Tonjes represents Albuquerque Economic Development.

Roxanne Rivera-Wiest

Rivera-Wiest represents Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., New Mexico Chapter.

Not Exactly `Mom and Pop

The non-lobbyist members of the task force are as follows (no offense to these folks, but I don’t see any “mom and pop shops” here, either):

Frank Yates: Past president of Yates Petroleum
Anna Muller: Albuquerque landlord and business owner
Perry Bendicksen: Albuquerque venture capitalist
Sarah Chavez: Director of sales and marketing at El Pinto Foods in Albuquerque
Dale Dekker: Albuquerque architect
Brent Eastwood: George Mason University professor, specializing in domestic policy and international security, and frequent contributor to American Enterprise Institute publications. Albuquerque
Joe DiGregorio: Gallup businessman
Kevin Yearout: Albuquerque mechanical contractor
Linda Kay Jones: Special assistant director of institutional advancement at Western New Mexico University
Robert Castillo: Information unavailable
Tom Hutchinson: Las Cruces restaurant owner
Mike Unthank: Independent management consultant, of Albuquerque
Carol Wight: CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association

The rest of the task force is rounded out by Gov. Martinez’s designated cabinet heads, including:

Jon Barela: Economic Development (task force chair)

Demesia Padilla: Tax and Revenue

Dee Dennis: Regulation and Licensing

Ed Burckle: General Services Department

Celina Bussey: Department of Workforce Solutions

Raj Solomon: General counsel at NMED

So Who’s At the Table?

The list of names makes a clear statement about who Gov. Martinez believes should be given a seat at the table of power and influence.

But do these selections match up with her rhetoric?

Here’s a quote from Gov. Martinez, from an interview with KKOB-770 yesterday regarding her philosophy of governing:

“We need to make sure the people are being represented…not the special interest groups that are showing up every day. We need to bring the people into the process.”

Here’s another quote from the Governor, also from yesterday:

“My biggest promise was that I was going to bring the people to the process, and there was going to be more transparency with what was goes on in the Roundhouse. And that includes the committee hearings.”

But apparently not task forces – looks like “the people” were left out of  finding what happened in those – unless they filed an IPRA request.

What Happened At Those Secret Meetings

Thanks to our open records request, we learned that the task force was named and began meeting secretly in February.

Notes taken by an Economic Development Department staffer show the group made no consideration of keeping any of the pending rules or regulations. The notes show that agenda items revolved around which industry wanted what rules rolled back – and how the Martinez administration could accomplish it.

Task force members weighed and discussed all possible tactics the Governor could use to block incoming regulations – repealing a rule, making an executive order, attempting to pass legislation.

Among the documents we received in our public information request was a mid-point report from Feb. 17 that is full of recommendations the task force apparently didn’t want to share with anyone. (We’ll post that entire report later today.) And we still have a request pending for more documents to come from the Economic Development Department, which facilitated the meetings.

Why Secret?

But why were these meetings closed? Similar task forces in the past created by the Governor and chaired by the Economic Development Secretary were held in the open, with meetings announced in advance and conducted around the state in public places with plenty of input from regular New Mexicans.

Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, says the the state Open Meetings Act probably does not apply to task forces created by the Governor.  But as one of the state’s leading advocate for transparency in government, Welsh noted that the Open Meetings Act sets a minimum standard for which meetings must be noticed and open to the public.

Welsh said today:

“The Open Meetings Act sets out a broad public policy of openness, stating `it is declared to be public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.’ As our state Supreme Court has put it, openness is the rule and secrecy is the exception.”

Makes you wonder what this task force is trying to hide.

You’ll find out exactly what in our next post, when we share the recommendations from the task force’s midpoint report.