SANTA FE – Voters — and not the governor — will continue to choose members of the Public Regulation Commission for the foreseeable future.
The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to table a proposed constitutional amendment to change the commission from an elected body to an appointed one. The decision effectively killed the bill.
The 8-3 vote came after three of the five members of the regulatory commission — including Chairwoman Valerie Espinoza, D-Santa Fe — spoke in opposition to the measure.
The defeated joint resolution was a compromise that incorporated legislation introduced by Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Farmington.
Bandy said he decided to introduce his bill after following the case in which the commission approved Public Service Company of New Mexico’s controversial plan to close two of the four coal-burning units at the massive San Juan Generating Station near Farmington. The commission eventually approved a plan to replace the lost capacity with more coal-generated power from another unit at the plant, as well as nuclear power from Arizona, natural gas from a proposed nearby facility and a small amount of solar power.
Bandy, who supported the San Juan plan, said “I realized how technical and complicated the commission’s work was. I thought an appointed commission would have more knowledge and experience.”
Trujillo said 40 states and U.S. territories have appointed regulatory bodies. He said he wanted to make sure that the commission’s decisions “are not changed by political winds.”
But the commissioners present disagreed.
Commissioner Sandy Jones, D-Williamsburg, said “An appointed commission will change when there’s a gubernatorial change.” Under the proposed amendment, no more than three commissioners could be members of the same political party at the time of their appointment — which means whoever was governor could appoint a majority of commissioners in his or her party.
Espinoza said the proposed amendment was “highly offensive.” She pointed to the fact that in 2012, New Mexico voters overwhelmingly approved three constitutional amendments related to the Public Regulation Commission, including one that called for minimum qualifications for members.
Commissioner Karen Montoya, D-Albuquerque, said most voters she talks to don’t know what the commission does. Among the body’s responsibilities are regulating public utilities, transportation companies, and transmission and communications companies.
All of the commissioners who testified Thursday argued that having elected commissioners makes the regulatory agency more accessible and accountable to the public.
Ben Shelton of Conservation Voters New Mexico agreed with that argument, saying an appointed commission would operate behind “a cloak of inaccessibility.”
One commissioner who has called for an appointed commission, Patrick Lyons, R-Cuervo, did not attend the meeting.
A similar proposal in the Senate — Senate Joint Resolution 7, sponsored by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec — has been sitting in Senate Rules Committee with no hearings scheduled.