Constitutional Amendment 1 on this year’s ballot would replace the current PRC, which has five elected members, with a three-member board appointed by the governor. Each member would serve a six-year term, meaning some would remain in office longer than the governor who appointed them. A new PRC Nominating Committee would screen applicants for the board, hopefully ensuring that only knowledgeable and experienced candidates made it to the governor’s office for final consideration.
A group called Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers is backing the PRC amendment, based on the three mailers that have made it to my house thus far. Their primary argument is that energy regulation is a complex field that should be led by experts, not back-slapping politicians who have visited every Rotary Club in their district, but none of the power plants.
There have been plenty of those over the years.
The PRC was created by a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1996 merging the State Corporation Commission with the Public Utility Commission. The result was a regulatory behemoth responsible for everything from insurance to taxi cabs to power companies.
Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2012 narrowing the PRC’s scope by moving authority to regulate corporations to the Secretary of State’s Office and insurance companies to the Superintendent of Insurance.
That amendment also set new requirements to run for office, but the wording is open to interpretation. When current PRC Commissioner Steve Fischmann ran for the seat in 2018, an unsuccessful lawsuit was filed claiming that his past experience in the state Senate and working for Levi Strauss & Co. did not meet the new requirement.
The push to reform the PRC in 2012 came after a string of news stories showing the agency in a bad light. Commission E. Shirley Baca was arrested in 2002 after allegedly being caught with marijuana at the airport. Commissioner Carol Sloan was convicted of two felony counts after hitting another woman in the head with a rock in 2010. She believed the woman was having an affair with her husband. Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. was convicted of multiple felonies for misuse of a state-issued credit card in 2011.
The push for reform this year comes after a dispute between the PRC and the governor’s office over a clean energy bill that was passed by the Legislature in 2019. Implementation of the Energy Transition Act was stalled by the PRC when it refused to sign off on financing plans for the decommissioning of the San Juan Generating Station.
In an email exchange with one of his constituents, Fischmann said he supports the proposed amendments, though he shares my concerns. Commissioners don’t have a technical knowledge of the field they are regulating, they have had a difficult time retaining knowledgeable staff, and too many decisions are based on political considerations, he said. I’m still thinking it over.
The proposal to amend the PRC is the first of two constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot this year. The second would allow the Legislature to adjust the terms for local elected officials to align or stagger the elections.
The state’s Legislative Council Service has a terrific analysis of the pros and cons of both proposed constitutional amendments on the Legislature’s website, in the Publications section.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org