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HB 8 can help counties survive closures

Misinformation and rumors have arisen locally surrounding the closure of the Escalante power plant in Prewitt. These rumors have fanned flames that play to both sides of the political aisle, and political posturing has replaced the real conversation needed to prepare for the oncoming economic changes. As chair of New Mexico House Appropriations and Finance Committee and a local economic developer, it is my duty to explain what is happening and what we’re doing to save jobs and protect our communities.

This issue is very personal for me. Growing up in Milan, I lived through the collapse of the uranium industry bearing witness to its impact on our families and communities. That is why I’ve sounded the alarm and been planning for this event for the last five years. The writing is on the wall; changes in the national, regional, and San Juan County energy markets have made coal a difficult product. It’s no longer a question of “if” but “when” the ripple effects impact our communities, which is why my partners and I have studies and plans that position us well. Now is the time to execute.

That is why I’ve sponsored House Bill 8, a bill to bring urgent economic relief to communities in McKinley and Cibola counties by forming an economic development district and a new taxing authority. House Bill 8 is the culmination of a collaborative effort between the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation and Transmission Association LLC., McKinley County and the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments. This has allowed for locally driven solutions for much-needed investments.

To explain House Bill 8 and its necessity, it’s essential to break down what is happening in our community:

• In 10 months, the Prewitt Escalante Generating Station will close and put the economies of McKinley and Cibola counties in peril.

• Tri-State & Transmission Association LLC has already announced 200 megawatts of solar power to be built in the Prewitt area and has committed $5 million to fund and support worker transition efforts.

• House Bill 8 only applies to the Prewitt Escalante Generation Station, allowing for the creation of an authority to focus on redevelopment of Tri-State and its assets. The authority is to be made up of a Board appointed as technical experts and top-notch professionals. Furthermore, the bill sets up a fund that can receive investments and be used to advance the economic development goals of the authority. The new authority would have bonding capabilities but would not be allowed to implement any taxes unless voted on by the county and, thanks to legislative efforts, the 2021 state budget has already appropriated $15 million to the fund.

House Bill 8 passed out of the House of Representatives and has moved to the Senate. If signed into law, House Bill 8 will provide the structure and oversight for economic redevelopment money. I am grateful to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has shown real leadership and readiness in taking the necessary action to help workers and communities. I am also thankful to Reps. Harry Garcia, Eliseo Alcon, Joseph Sanchez and Wonda Johnson for supporting and co-sponsoring this bill.

Neglecting the workers and communities impacted by the closures of the Escalante Generating Station, McKinley Paper and the Lee Ranch and El Segundo mines is not an option. In House Bill 8, we have a viable path forward to do what is in our power to save jobs and protect our communities.

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