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Reform will bring new expertise to PRC


Attorneys seeking to overturn the will of voters who approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 reforming the state Public Regulation Commission had to make two conflicting arguments.

The first was that voters weren’t bright enough to read the amendment and understand that it would result in PRC members being appointed and not elected. The second was that voters are the only ones bright enough to be entrusted with the task of selecting utility regulators.

The New Mexico Supreme Court disagreed, and dismissed a lawsuit last week that had been filed by three groups representing Native American and environmental interests. Later in the week, a nominating panel selected nine finalists for the governor to choose from in appointing the new three-member commission.

I’m a big fan of elections except when it comes to three positions: judges, directors of elections and utility regulators. The first two are both worthy of columns for another day.

Utility regulators are charged with balancing the interests of ratepayers, who also happen to be voters, and the corporate monopolies that provide critical services. The goal is to keep rates as low as possible, while still allowing the companies to maintain financial stability and make needed investments in new technology.

Voters don’t need to balance any of that. They just want lower rates.

The 2020 election was the second time voters approved a constitutional amendment reforming the PRC. In 2012 they passed an amendment that required commissioners to have at least some minimal amount of education or experience in the fields that they are regulating.

Before then, the PRC had been a political springboard for those who were skilled at politics, and had their eyes on higher offices, but knew little about the intricacies and complexities of the job. Ben Ray Lujan, one of our two U.S. senators, is the most obvious example of that.

Prior to winning election to his seat on the PRC, Lujan had earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and served as the director of administrative services and chief financial adviser for the state Cultural Affairs Department. His primary qualification at that time was being the son of then-Speaker of the House Ben Lujan.

Ben Ray Lujan made the most of his opportunity, serving with distinction while on the PRC. The same can not be said of numerous other commissioners over the years. There is a reason voters have been so open to change.

All nine of the nominees submitted to the governor have experience and knowledge in the field. They include Carolyn Glick, a former general counsel and hearing officer for the PRC, and Arthur O’Donnell, a former PRC consultant.

Also under consideration are Cholla Khoury, the state’s chief deputy attorney general for civil affairs; Patrick O’Connell, a former resource planner for Public Service Company of New Mexico; Gabriel Aguilera, a senior policy adviser for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; James Ellison, an engineer at Sandia Labs; attorney Amy Stein; former state legislator Brian Moore and Joseph Little of the Mescalero Apache Nation.

It will be up to Lujan Grisham to select a three-person board that can represent the diverse interests of all residents, including tribal governments.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.