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NM high court accepts climate change brief in San Juan case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court has accepted a brief on climate change filed by 38 organizations, the latest pivot in the labyrinthine San Juan Generating Station case that has been ongoing for three years.

The friend-of-the-court brief was filed in support of New Energy Economy. The group is challenging a December 2015 decision by state regulators to allow Public Service Company of New Mexico to purchase 197 megawatts of coal-powered electricity to replace lost power from two shuttered units at the coal-powered San Juan station.

PNM agreed to close the units as part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reducing air pollution in the Four Corners area.

“What’s extraordinary is that such a diverse group of people came together in support of New Energy Economy,” said Paul Hultin, attorney for the organizations represented in the brief.

Those represented in the filing include the city of Santa Fe as well as national, Native American, Hispanic, regional, state and community-based nonprofit organizations. The brief describes coal’s contribution to climate change and alleges the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission failed to consider climate change in its decision.

The brief also reiterates the central argument of New Energy Economy’s appeal: that the PRC was biased in PNM’s favor before hearing any evidence in the case, and that it “ignored the regulatory mandate to prefer resources that minmize environmental impacts when the cost and service quality of resources are equivalent.”

The PRC maintains it acted appropriately in the case.

The case has divided the state’s environmental community, with some organizations claiming the partial closure of San Juan will provide a better outcome for the state than rejecting the PRC’s decision outright.

“I think the issues contained in the brief are largely, in my opinion, not relevant to the appeal,” said Steve Michel, attorney for Western Resource Advocates. “WRA agrees whole-heartedly that climate change is the issue of the day. Why that is being brought up at this point in the case is another question.”

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