NM regulators accept human-caused climate change as fact

Record drought in New Mexico and the Southwest is rapidly reducing water levels at Elephant Butte Lake. A New Mexico Public Regulation Commission hearing examiner has declared human-caused climate change a scientific fact in regulatory proceedings. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission may have set a national precedent this week after one of its hearing examiners declared human-caused climate change a scientific fact in regulatory proceedings.

Hearing Examiner Ashley Schannauer’s order, released Monday, specifically pertains to proceedings in the proposed merger between PNM Resources and Connecticut-based energy giant Avangrid. Schannauer’s action means parties in the case won’t have to present any testimony, evidence or proof about the issue in public hearings in August, where case intervenors will debate the pros and cons of allowing Avangrid to acquire PNMR in a $4.3 billion all-cash transaction.

Steve Michel

But while the order is specifically limited to the merger proceedings, it could set a precedent to guide commission decision-making in future cases when climate change issues arise. And that may make the PRC the first state regulatory body in the U.S. to consider the issue an indisputable reality that’s no longer up for debate, said Steve Michel, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates, one of the environmental groups that asked Schannauer to emit the order.

“By doing this, the commission is saying that this is something we’re not going to continue to debate — that it’s established fact,” Michel told the Journal. “I’m not aware of any other regulatory commissions in the country that have done this.”

Some courts in the U.S. have taken “judicial notice” of the issue in cases that involve climate change. That’s a procedural mechanism that allows uncontroversial facts to be established without evidentiary proof.

In the PRC’s case, Schannauer took “administrative notice” of the issue, specifically accepting:

  • That climate change is caused by human activity leading to accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere;
  • That fossil-fuel combustion by power plants, vehicles and industry is a predominant source of greenhouse gas emissions;
  • That direct consequences include wildfires, drought, floods, extreme weather events and rising sea levels; and
  • That severe adverse consequences for all living things will be “widespread and irreversible” without quick action to substantially curtail emissions.

The Attorney General’s Office, WRA and other environmental organizations asked Schannauer to approve the motion, which none of the nearly two-dozen parties in the merger case opposed.

“This allows us to work fast to get ahead of climate change and its impacts, because we don’t have time to keep debating whether it’s real or not,” Michel said. “We can stop debating now and focus on getting it fixed.”

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