from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico
Santa Fe - Not all bills will survive the nearly-done legislative session. One stalled bill would give the public a greater voice before the Public Regulation Commission.
This year's legislative session is winding down, and while some bills introduced will go on to become law, many others have stalled. One bill, HB488, that has hit a wall would provide funds to reimburse non-profits and public intervenors that go up against big utilities like PNM in cases before the Public Regulation Commission over things like rate hikes, consumer rules or other issues.
One PRC commissioner, Jason Marks, says big utilities can spend over a million dollars on a case, often leaving groups that advocate for the environment, low-income people and other areas of public interest seriously out-gunned, "They come in with one attorney, maybe one or two witnesses, depending on which organization it is, and there's a real disparity there."
Marks says that the way the law works, customers end up footing the bill for the hefty utility company legal fees. Utilities have argued, and Marks acknowledges, that multiple public interest intervenors can go up against a utility, evening things out a bit, but at a recent hearing PNM admitted spending two million dollars on the current rate case. The bill is currently stalled in the House Business and Industry committee.
Representative Eleanor Chavez sponsored the bill. She says reimbursing public intervenors frees up funds for non-profits to use to serve people in other ways, not to mention pushing back against rate hikes, "Intervenors in the past have been successful, but it's been very costly for them and it can really drain a, for example, a non-profit organization that wants to be an intervenor. I think this really levels the playing field."
Eric Mack reporting, email@example.com