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Sierra Club strongly supports the ETA

As a New Mexican and chair of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, I am proud of what Gov. (Michelle) Lujan Grisham and the Legislature achieved with the Energy Transition Act.

Along with a diverse coalition, they enacted a law to guide our state’s transition to a clean-energy future, with nation-leading requirements for renewable energy and funding for plant and mine workers, and the surrounding community.

As a former labor organizer for state employees, my favorite part of the ETA requires job training and apprenticeships in construction of new energy sources. Renewable energy jobs need to be part of the equation for replacing coal jobs. I believe we must support labor organizing in the energy fields as we transition. The wages, benefits and safety of energy jobs are best protected by good labor contracts.

The ETA will provide other critical benefits as well. San Juan County residents can see the start of a just transition if the San Juan coal plant closes and is cleaned up and renewables are built. The new law provides $40 million for workers and economic development in the Four Corners. The ETA encourages replacement energy in the same school district as the San Juan plant to help make that school district whole, all while reducing our electric rates through low-interest bonds.

ETA opponents have never offered an alternative that would provide anywhere near the $40 million the law provides for workers and the impacted community.

If New Energy Economy (NEE) and others succeed in blocking implementation of this groundbreaking law, it is San Juan workers and community members who will lose the most, and we all lose the law’s critical renewable-energy requirements.

In her op-ed (Nov. 25), NEE director Mariel Nanasi falsely claimed that the Sierra Club advocated for Public Service Company of New Mexico’s acquisition of shares in the remaining units at San Juan Generating Station when the first two units closed. The Sierra Club was not even a party in that case before the Public Regulation Commission.

However, the Sierra Club was one of a coalition of organizations that sued to force PNM to pay hundreds of millions to slash the San Juan plant’s emissions and clean up its coal ash and other pollution in San Juan River and community drinking water.

Indeed, the Sierra Club helped secure the first federal regulation of coal ash disposal. Toxic coal ash contamination is one of many reasons the Sierra Club is working to ensure that PNM abandons its interests in San Juan Generating Station and the plant closes and stops generating toxic coal ash.

NEE wants PNM to take a loss when it exits the San Juan plant, and that’s understandable. Sierra Club wanted PNM to exit San Juan much earlier than it has proposed. In fact, we’ve fought over the years to close coal in New Mexico and throughout the country. But NEE’s “solution” at San Juan is far inferior to the ETA.

Outside of the ETA, PNM would have an opportunity to recover both the capital it invested in San Juan and earn a profit on that investment. Under the ETA, PNM will get back what it has invested in San Juan but won’t earn a profit on those investments. Ironically, both NEE’s proposal to disallow some of PNM’s costs and the Energy Transition Act’s approach would have about the same impact on ratepayers.

But the ETA provides significant benefits that NEE’s approach does not. The ETA refinances PNM’s capital investments in San Juan with low-interest bonds, saving enough to also finance funds for the community and workers, all while saving ratepayers money. So ETA lowers our electric bills and accelerates New Mexico to 50% renewables by 2030 and 100% carbon-free energy by 2045. NEE seems willing to sacrifice those game-changing renewable standards, and protections for workers and Four Corners residents, for a hollow “victory” against PNM.

The Sierra Club will continue to fight for clean, renewable energy and the good jobs that should go with it and to clean up the contamination left behind by coal. We hope you’ll join us in that effort. You can learn more at www.riograndesierraclub.org.

David Coss has been the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter chair for five years.

 

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