A few miles north of the Chevron Oil Field a mare and foal stand in a field in front of the Roosevelt Wind Project, a large wind-power utility. (Photo by Jerry Redfern / Capital & Main)
The committee responsible for sorting through the applicants who are seeking an appointment to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously voted on Friday to refer nine names to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
One notable name was not on the list: Commissioner Cynthia Hall, who served on the PRC since 2017 representing the Albuquerque area. She’s the only sitting commissioner who’d applied for the job and was in the final pool the nominating committee selected from for recommendations.
In a quick phone interview afterward, Hall said she didn’t know why the nominating committee didn’t recommend her. A brand-new commission will have to spend time meeting stakeholders, she pointed out. The people who were recommended who have experience as PRC staff or who’ve worked with the commission, she said, would be best suited to fill the seats.
It was a monthslong, first-of-its-kind selection process that ultimately ended in a quiet room in front of a handful people on the third floor of the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.
The committee’s vote whittled down a pool of 15 applicants they’d interviewed down to a list of nine recommendations. Lujan Grisham’s job is to now sort through the committee’s referrals and pick three people to fill a new PRC.
Voters in 2020 approved reform of the body that oversees public utilities, and it’s transitioning from comprising five elected commissioners to three appointed ones next year
The recommendations are: Gabriel Aguilera, James Ellison, Carolyn Glick, Cholla Khoury, Joseph Little, Brian Moore, Pat O’Connell, Art O’Donell, Amy Stein.
In one of his last acts as an elected, Rep. Brian Egolf praised the committee for its effectiveness during the meeting.
“This is the first time, obviously, that we have done it this way. And the amount of time that members of the community have put in is really remarkable,” Egolf said “I think the vote today really is pretty remarkable to have started from such a large group and to have enthusiastic unanimity on the names going forward is a very, very good start to the day.”
While the committee showed a smooth process with little debate on their chosen applicants, there was some contention around the new process presented during public comment.
Krystal Curley, executive director of Indigenous Lifeways, spoke out, saying the new process to pick the PRC is excluding the voices of Native Americans. Curley was part of a coalition of groups that argued against the changes in front of the state Supreme Court on Monday. In the end, the court sided with the voters and denied the group’s attempt to block changes.
“I just want to put it on record for the future generations to know that their auntie, their ancestor said something for them,” Curley (Diné) said. “And that the representation on the PRC was taken away during a time we were experiencing a global pandemic.”
A potential pathway to resolving some concerns for tribal nations could come with the appointment of Joseph Little (Mescalero Apache). He is an attorney with expertise working with tribal governments in court on water rights deals and eventually in an administrative role as the Albuquerque regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Joseph Hernandez, an energy policy director with the Native American Voters Alliance, voiced support for Little during public comment because of his experience working with a tribal interest between local, state and federal governments.
“The thing about our Navajo Nation is that there’s a whole level of complexity you have to talk about a lot more, because there’s still a lot of people here in my community who don’t have access to running water or don’t have homes that are energy-efficient,” he said. “It really takes a different perspective when it comes to rural communities, or tribal communities, and to understand the complexity of why we’re in the situation.”
Support for Little extended past public comment.
He was included in the first list of seven applicants the committee voted to send to the governor. The first list was presented by committee member Cydney Beadles, a move that offered relief for fellow committee member Ron Lovato.
“I thought I was gonna have to advocate for him (Little),” he said.
By law, the PRC nominating committee must have at least one representative who serves the interests of the Native American population in New Mexico. Lovato’s (Ohkay Owingeh) experience working with the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative showed him that the new PRC needs to understand the diverse needs of all 23 tribes in the state.
Each applicant was asked for their perspective on working with the 23 tribal nations in New Mexico, and everyone said they respect tribal sovereignty and would develop ways to work with tribal governments.
“There’s a tendency that an Indian is an Indian, right? No matter what tribe you come from. But the tribes are very different, as well,” Lovato said. “There are 23 different opinions, not just one tribal opinion.”
Lovato also won support from his fellow panelists in adding Amy Stein and Cholla Khoury to the list for the governor’s review.
Stein, a law professor at the University of Florida, has experience working on New Mexico’s Energy Roadmap and policies that will meet climate change standards under the New Mexico Energy Transition Act.
Khoury has more than a decade of experience working with the legal team in the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office on issues related to utilities and consumer protection.
The remaining applicants are a mix of energy industry professionals and government policy wonks bringing experience working on public utilities.
Gabe Aguilera would bring D.C. experience working on energy policy. James Ellison is an energy grid analyst at Sandia National Labs.
Carolyn Glick has 16 years of experience working as a staff for the PRC, so she has knowledge on the ins and outs of how the commission operates.
Arthur O’Donnell has similar experience from working as a federal appointee that reports to the PRC on solar initiatives. He has experience working on public utility projects in California.
Brian Moore a business owner that has also worked on energy policy during his time as a state lawmaker.
Pat O’Connell is an energy insider with experience working for PNM, the largest provider of electricity in New Mexico, and a company the PRC regulates. He has a mix of experience working on energy policy with a conservation group.
Egolf said the nominating committee will send its referrals to Lujan Grisham in a letter. Appointees must be from three different counties in the state and represent the various geographical regions. The new PRC must be in place by January 1, 2023.
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