Our Resident Smart Aleck Talks about ALEC (VIDEO)

Sarah Kennedy has a feast with all the products made by corporations that dropped their sponsorships of ALEC last week.

Just in case you missed the national furor about the American Legislative Exchange Council over the last week, here are a few links to bring you up to speed:

The Nation: How ALEC Took Florida’s ‘License to Kill’ Law National

NY Times: Embarrassed by Bad Laws

McClatchy: Study: ALEC has ‘secretive influence’ in Missouri statehouse

Common Cause: ALEC Exposed, for 24 Hours

(Special Bonus) Here’s an oldie, but goodie from ClearlyNM about one of ALEC’s interventions in New Mexico:

Kochtopus Bill Has Its Tentacles In The New Mexico Legislature

And speaking of the Koch brothers, this just in from Center for Media and Demoracy: ALEC Gets Support From Koch-Funded Americans for Prosperity

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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Showdown at the PRC: Consumers win as PNM’s rate increase is slashed

By J. Daniel

By any standard, it was a stunning upset. PNM lost yesterday and New Mexico consumers won.

As the state’s largest electric utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) had grown accustomed to having its way with the 5-member elected body charged with regulating it — the Public Regulation Commission. After two straight years of getting its rate increase requests granted, this year PNM and its army of lawyers and lobbyists decided to go for a three-peat in 2011 — initially asking for a whopping $165 million rate hike.

After months of hearings, including closed-door negotiations from which consumer advocates were excluded, that figure got bumped down to a base rate of $85 million. However, a number of  consumer charges were tacked on in addition to the base rate — masked as extra “riders” to the so-called “stipulated agreement.”

So with customary sign-off by the lawyers from the Attorney General’s office, it looked like smooth sailing for PNM’s third straight rate hike. Soon it would be sending out bills to its residential customers with a hefty new increase tacked on.

But Thursday was decision day, and despite all the behind the scenes machinations of the lawyers, PNM ran into a brick wall of unprecedented customer resistance leading up to the PRC hearing in Santa Fe.

“We received hundreds of calls,” was the refrain voiced by at least two of the Commissioners as they prepared to cast their deciding votes.

And then in quick succession, the PRC rejected three motions favored by PNM (one even failing for lack of a second on a motion by Patrick Lyons). It then voted 3 to 2 and passed a framework put together by Commissioner Jason Marks that granted PNM a $72 million rate increase.

Marks explained it this way:

“It’s important that the company only gets what’s fair for PNM and its customers… We can’t afford to give the company the benefit of the doubt. We’ve got to sharpen our pencils. We’ve got to make sure we’re not asking a ratepayer to pay a dollar more than the law requires.”

As a regulated utility monopoly, PNM has a statutory right from the our legislature to make a profit.  The Commission must adhere to that law.  The true question before the Commission was how much exactly to award.

A press release issued by Prosperity Works, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, lauded the PRC’s decision:

“Today the Public Regulation Commission was presented with four options to address PNM’s rate increase request. While all four options included rate increases, the one that passed today will have the smallest impact on consumers,” said Carmela Starce, lead council for Prosperity Works.  “We wish to thank Commissioners (Jason) Marks, (Jerome) Block and (Theresa Becenti) Aguilar for their vote on behalf of New Mexico’s consumers.”

Starce pointed out, “Let me be clear, one of the commissioners who voted against the Marks plan did so – not because he was against a rate increase but because he favored the plan that would have cost New Mexicans the most money and put it right into PNM’s pocket.  Today, three commissioners did the best they could with what was before them.  They should be applauded for working on behalf of New Mexicans to make sure that PNM didn’t get a penny more that it could justify.”

Starce estimated that the PRC’s action today will save consumers at least $60 million over the next five years.

PNM has ten days in which to appeal the decision.

More Clearly NM coverage of the PNM rate hike fight here.

(Many thanks to Charlotte Chinana, who contributed to this report.)

Coalition rallies in Albuquerque to end oil and gas subsidies

By Matthew Reichbach

 

With government spending and the Congressional debate on raising the debt ceiling dominating headlines, a collection of New Mexico groups gathered outside an Internal Revenue Service building in Albuquerque to protest subsidies given to the oil industry.

The groups were aided by a report by Taxpayers for Common Sense called “Subsidy Gusher” which “outlined $78.1 billion in subsidies and specialized tax breaks to the oil and gas industry over the next five years.” The study also found that New Mexico taxpayers contribute $104 million per year in subsidies to the oil and gas industry — or $285,000 per day.

“Oil and gas companies are hauling in enormous profits,” Jill Lancelot of Taxpayers for Common Sense said at the rally.

“We think that oil and gas companies that are profitable ought to be to pay their fair share in taxes and they’re not doing that at this point,” Lancelot said. “It’s just wrong that these corporations make this amount of money and are unwilling to pay their fair share.”

“The oil and gas industry is alive and well and doing quite well here in New Mexico,” Matthew Garrington, the Deputy Director of the Checks & Balances Project said at the rally. “In fact, in June and July, the state of New Mexico just saw the two most lucrative months for leasing on record here in the state.”

Garrington also said that drilling activity is 40 percent above the 20 year average and that New Mexico is “about to hit a 20-year high in the number of oil and gas rigs that are on the ground, operating right now.”

The report states that “the oil and gas industry’s Congressional ties run deep.”

Not surprisingly, oil and gas companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade in an effort to lock in the preferential treatment they receive from Washington. Since the start o the 2002 election cycle, the oil and gas industry has donated $138.7 million to the campaigns of elected officials in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The coalition of groups, which also included Republicans for Environmental Protection, OLÉ, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Alliance for Retired Americans, held a sign near the IRS pointing out the subsidies that New Mexicans paid for the oil industry.

Some supporters of the oil and gas industry have argued that if the industry is not given tax breaks the companies would move out of the state to other states that provide better tax incentives.

“[That’s] absolutely not true because oil and gas companies have to drill wherever dinosaurs died in the ground,” Garrington said. “They can’t pick up shop and move next door to Arizona for drilling because there’s no oil and gas there.”

“The simple fact of the matter is that they will drill as long as prices are high and they’ve got the technology to get at the resources,” Garrington said.

The oil and gas industry defended its role in New Mexico. The Associated Press reported:

According to the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the industry paid more than $1.5 billion in taxes, fees and royalties to the state during the 2010 fiscal year. It also paid an additional $141 million in local taxes.

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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Is your head ready to explode yet, Susana?

It’s another day in the movie entitled, “Cursed to Live in Interesting Times.”

For the Memo to Governor Martinez entitled, “New Mexico’s Race to the Bottom”, there’s this tidbit:

Five Reasons Why States Can’t Create Jobs by Cutting Business Taxes from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

In the “Baby, It Hurts So Good Department”, tough economic times couldn’t be working out better for Big Oil. Despite all those regulatory fetters, today Exxon Mobil reported a first quarter profit jump of 69%.

In view of the pain that motorists are feeling at the gas pump, along with the alleged focus of some in Congress to attacking the deficit, one would think Speaker John Boehner and GOP budget master Paul Ryan would be on the same page. But apparently, someone didn’t get the memo:

While Boehner rejects request to end subsidies for oil firms (The Hill)

Rep. Paul Ryan says it’s time to do just that. (Politico)

And what about “Drill Baby Drill” as a way out of the crisis?  Former Bush-McCain economic advisor admitted it wouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference.

Meanwhile, don’t cry for Massachusetts! Despite being burdened with a state-imposed universal health insurance mandate (RomneyCare), the Bay State experienced an economic growth surge ahead of the overall United States in the first quarter of 2011. Oh, and as an added bonus (or rather “fetter”), the state’s uninsured rate is below 5%.

Back here in New Mexico, we’re bracing for the cut-off of federal stimulus funds that, according to UNM economists, paid for as many as 23,000 jobs through June of last year.

Tick, tick, tick.

 

Sin of Emission on Earth Day – Good Friday Edition

In celebration of Earth Day 2011, here’s a story courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council:

For Earth Day, Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute posted this shocker:  “Energy Fact of the Week: Sulfur Dioxide Emissions from Coal Have Declined 54 Percent.”  He includes some nice government charts…

But from Hayward’s blog, you’d think this happened by itself!

The chief causes of this decline are technology—cost-effective “scrubbers” to remove sulfur dioxide from the waste stream—and resource substitution: we started using much more low-sulfur coal from the western United States.

No mention of the Clean Air Act’s acid rain program – the limits on sulfur dioxide emissions established in the 1990 Clean Air Act.  Without the Clean Air Act’s pollution limits, this scrubber technology and switch to lower-sulfur coal would never have happened.  Why install pollution controls or use cleaner fuels if you can dump all your pollution in the atmosphere for free?

Sounds like the corporate hacks at AEI are more adept at scrubbing history than scrubbing emissions. Wouldn’t want to let actual facts get in the way of the prime narrative denying government’s necessary role in protecting public health and enforcing the rules of the road for free market capitalism in all its majesty.

It’s about “promoting the general welfare” for those of us with a constitutional bent.

All of which reminds us of a light bulb joke, free market fundamentalist edition.

Question:  “How many free market economists does it take to change a light bulb?”

Answer:  “None. They wait for the invisible hand to do it.”

And in related news, check out today’s excellent post on DFNM:

Four Corners Power Plan Leads Nation in Smog-forming Pollution

Happy Earth Day, y’all.