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Court denies petition against four PRC members

SANTA FE —The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday rejected an environmental nonprofit group’s attempt to have four of the five Public Regulation Commission members disqualified from voting on a high-profile case regarding the future of the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

However, the state’s highest court said it plans to revisit the issue on appeal, and justices voiced concerns about commissioners’ public comments potentially tainting their official duties.

Despite the decision, Mariel Nanasi, the executive director of New Energy Economy, the Santa Fe-based nonprofit, told reporters the group did not regret raising the bias issue and said she remains optimistic about the appeals process.

“The door is still open — that’s what the message is,” Nanasi said.

The nonprofit group alleged commissioners Pat Lyons, Sandy Jones, Karen Montoya and Lynda Lovejoy have shown bias and pre-judgment — largely through their public statements — regarding Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plan to shut down two generating units at the San Juan Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant that PNM co-owns and operates.

Under a proposed settlement agreement, the two shuttered units would be replaced with a combination of nuclear, natural gas and solar generated power. PNM has maintained the agreement is environmentally sound and would be cost-efficient for consumers. The PRC has not yet voted on it.

Patrick Apodaca, PNM’s general counsel, said the Supreme Court’s decision could pave the way for action on the settlement agreement by year’s end.

“This does now allow the San Juan/PNM case to move ahead at the PRC,” Apodaca told reporters, adding the utility would be prepared for an appeal in the case.

In announcing the high court’s ruling Monday after nearly one hour of deliberations, Chief Justice Barbara Vigil said justices do not plan to issue a formal written opinion in the case, though she did not dismiss its merits.

“We find that the issues raised by the petition are important concerns,” Vigil said.

The Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected the requested disqualification of three of the four PRC members — Jones, Montoya and Lovejoy — but were not in harmony on whether Lyons should be disqualified.

Justices Vigil and Edward Chavez sided against disqualifying Lyons, while Justice Petra Jimenez Maes was in favor. As a result, Lyons will be able to stay on the case. The fifth commissioner is Valerie Espinoza of Santa Fe.

One issue justices appeared to struggle with during Monday’s oral arguments was what would happen if they were to disqualify the commissioners and how the San Juan case would then be decided.

Meanwhile, each of the four PRC members had their own attorney for Monday’s arguments, as the agency had previously approved spending nearly $215,000 on lawyers for the case.