Jack Swickard, Board Member of Rio Grande Foundation
You’ve heard the adage elections have consequences. So do ignoring settlements and inviting litigation. In the recent state Public Regulation Commission rate case regarding Public Service Company of New Mexico, New Energy Economy (NEE) engaged in a zero-sum game. And while NEE may have spent Christmas morning in the warm glow of its PRC victory, the unintended consequences of its attitude affects ratepayers, staff moral and, perhaps most importantly, the spirit of collaboration and compromise.
It also may limit the strict application of the law (by the state Supreme Court) if the PRC doesn’t reconsider the decision. Ratepayers may suffer a negative consequence if the Supreme Court rules the Revised Stipulated Agreement is indeed legally defensible.
The day Public Regulation commissioners rejected PNM’s cost-recovery request, the PRC’s general counsel relayed NEE’s accusation that PNM bought off members of New Mexico’s Industrial Energy Consumers foracquiescence to the agreement. If this is believed to be the modus operandi of PNM, what did PNM offer the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, the Sierra Club or the attorney general? Nothing. Nor do I believe PNM engaged in shadow negotiations with any other party to the rate case. To believe this would lend credence to an equally absurd idea NEE left the table because it wasn’t offered a buyoff. The fact is Sierra, Western Resource Advocates, and the Coalition remain parties to the agreement because they possess the understanding perfection doesn’t exist in statute, rule or policy.
The reality is NEE left the table when it didn’t get all it wanted. The adults at the table remained and, in the spirit of compromise and collaboration, proposed a settlement allowing industry, customers and environmentalists to leave the door open for future settlements.
This is an important point because it shows the need for policymakers and elected officials to recognize and nurture hard-fought compromise. The consequences of turning their backs on the diligence of the parties to a case or a piece of legislation they are considering are very real. They may find in the future when administrative or political expediency demands collaboration between opposing forces, the negotiation table may lay empty.