Piñon Post

After less than a year, NM Gas Co. will ask for another rate hike

New Mexico Gas Co. has announced its intention to seek a rate increase from state utility regulators in September, a move that comes less than a year after implementing its most recent rate adjustment. The company has received an extension to submit its application for the proposed rate increase, with a deadline set for September 15, as disclosed in filings with the Public Regulation Commission.

Pending approval from the Gov. Lujan Grisham-appointed PRC and a potentially lengthy hearing process, the new rates could become effective in October 2024. However, the specifics of the forthcoming rate increase application, including the requested amount and the underlying cost factors, remain undisclosed. Tim Korte, the spokesperson for New Mexico Gas, has refrained from providing detailed information, stating that the company is diligently working on the rate case and will unveil the details upon filing.

The most recent rate increase, which became effective in January, resulted in an average monthly rise of $3 for residential gas bills. This increase followed the natural gas utility’s ongoing efforts to balance its financial structure.

Meanwhile, New Mexico Gas is advancing plans for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility in Rio Rancho, despite opposition from rabidly anti-oil and gas eco-leftists, many of whom want even gas-powered kitchen stoves banned.

The proposed facility, estimated to cost approximately $180 million, has prompted debates regarding its necessity and safety. Korte clarified that the expenses related to this facility would not be included in the imminent rate increase but would be gradually incorporated into gas bills after the facility becomes operational, likely in 2027.

According to the company’s application for the facility, the projected cost on an average bill would amount to $3.13 per month, with a decreasing price trajectory in the subsequent years due to depreciation.

The origins of this initiative can be traced back to a directive from the commission, which instructed New Mexico Gas to explore measures aimed at shielding consumers from market volatility. This move followed the significant financial impact of Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, which incurred a staggering $107 million in costs for New Mexico Gas ratepayers over a span of a week. The financial burden associated with this event will persist until December, as consumers continue to cover the expenses resulting from the market fluctuation.

In response to these market dynamics and the commission’s directive, the company initiated plans for the LNG storage facility. A commission proceeding is scheduled in the near future to assess the viability of the project. Various groups, including the environmentally focused New Energy Economy, Western Resource Advocates, and the state Attorney General’s Office, have become involved in the process by intervening in the case.

Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy, expressed her skepticism about the facility, citing concerns about potential risks such as gas explosions. She questioned whether the touted benefits of the project outweighed the inherent dangers. In response, Korte emphasized the company’s commitment to implementing the best practices accumulated over 40 years of operating similar LNG storage facilities to ensure safety and minimize risks.

Other intervenors are currently evaluating the project’s merits, withholding judgment until a comprehensive assessment is conducted on New Mexico Gas’s plans and their potential impact on ratepayers.

Korte reiterated the company’s assertion that the new LNG storage facility would ultimately prove advantageous for gas customers. Citing extensive research and analysis, he maintained that the facility’s projected savings for ratepayers exceed the associated costs, providing tangible benefits to consumers.

The unexpected move to request the rate hike comes amid radical anti-energy policies being implemented in New Mexico after the passage of the Energy Transition Act (ETA), which is the state’s version of the Green New Deal championed by socialist Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Nationally, the Joe Biden administration has harshly attacked the oil and gas industry, leading to rising gas prices, peaking in June 2022 at an average of $4.831 per gallon. Since the beginning of the year, gas prices, which momentarily dipped, have increased again. 

NM Ethics Commission delivers governor a ‘stunning defeat’

In what the Santa Fe New Mexican described as a “stunning defeat,” Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s halting of awarding billion-dollar Medicaid contracts to providers who had followed the state’s procurement process and scored the highest bids, the state Ethics Commission reversed her action.

The State Ethics Commission investigated the cancellation of the Request for Proposals (RFP) on April 20, 2023. They contended that this cancellation violated the Procurement Code, leading to the authorization of a civil enforcement action by their Executive Director, according to a press release.

During a special session held on Thursday, the commission entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the previously authorized civil action related to the violations of the Procurement Code by state officials and employees. However, it was not revealed whether an ethics complaint prompted this investigation.

Tom Garrity, a representative of the commission handling public relations, stated via text message to the New Mexican, “The commission does not have anything to add beyond the press release and settlement agreement.”

Democrat State Senator George Muñoz of Gallup criticized the Governor’s intervention in the procurement process, stating that the process should remain open and transparent, with no alteration of the rules.

The press release highlighted that the state allocates approximately $8 billion annually to Medicaid, catering to almost half of New Mexico’s population by providing healthcare services.

The 11-page settlement agreement strongly denied the Ethics Commission’s allegations of violating the procurement code. It dismissed claims of wrongdoing, damages, and any form of liability, including Procurement Code violations.

The Governor’s stance, as outlined in the agreement, pointed fingers at the Department, asserting, “The scores for all applicants raised significant concerns as to whether any of the bidders would be able to provide seamless, robust, and high-quality health care to New Mexicans.” This led to the decision to cancel the RFP and reissue the contracts with stricter requirements and benchmarks for service providers, based on the Department’s belief that the Procurement Code did not apply to the RFP process.

Caroline Sweeney, the Governor’s press secretary, emphasized the necessity for high-quality and affordable healthcare coverage for over 930,000 New Mexicans served by Medicaid. Sweeney declared, “The status quo is unacceptable. MCOs have not been doing their part to build network adequacy across the state, and when we pay them over $7 billion annually, we have a responsibility to demand excellent performance and patient access — and they must deliver.”

Per the settlement agreement, the department will issue notices of intent to award contracts to the four initially selected providers: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico, UnitedHealthcare of New Mexico, Molina Healthcare of New Mexico, Inc., and Presbyterian Health Plan. Western Sky Community Care, which competed for the contracts but was not recommended, will be informed that it wasn’t chosen for an MCO contract award.

Contracts with the four winning bidders will be negotiated, with a commencement date of July 1, 2024, following the RFP process, New Mexico’s Procurement Code, and relevant state procurement regulations.

Presbyterian will be notified of being awarded the contract to offer managed care for children in state custody.

The acting human services secretary Kari Armijo explained, “We will be negotiating contracts that reflect these improvements with the expectation of achieving better health outcomes for Medicaid customers.”

The Governor’s decision to reorder the procurement process drew bipartisan criticism, compounded by shifting explanations from the Governor’s administration regarding the reasons for canceling the request for proposals.

Initially, the Department stated that the cancellation allowed the new executives to assess the procurement design following the departure of Cabinet Secretary David Scrase and Medicaid Director Nicole Comeaux.

Later, the Governor’s communications director mentioned shared concerns with Scrase and Armijo regarding providers’ ability to ensure seamless care during the transition.

According to gubernatorial spokeswoman Maddy Hayden, the decision to cancel the procurement and reissue it was based solely on safeguarding the interests of Medicaid’s beneficiaries.

In December, a committee evaluated and scored the five proposals received by the Department following the issuance of a request three months prior. In January, Charles Canada, the department’s procurement manager, recommended awarding contracts to four of the five bidders, a suggestion endorsed by Comeaux and Gary Chavez, the department’s chief procurement officer.

Western Sky Community Care, the only existing Medicaid provider, failed to secure a contract. According to documents obtained via a public records request, the health insurance companies recommended for contract awards garnered the highest scores in the evaluation. They offered proposals deemed “most advantageous” to the State.

Toulouse Oliver’s office settles lawsuit after denying voter records

The office of New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has resolved a legal dispute concerning voter records through a settlement of $22,000 with a libertarian think tank. This agreement comes after the initial denial of access to voting information.

The Southwest Public Policy Institute (SPPI) first informed The Daily Signal about resolving their lawsuit regarding a denied request under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). This act is analogous to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

SPPI president Patrick M. Brenner emphasized the significance of the settlement in conveying a message to all governing bodies. He remarked, “You are being watched, and we do not take ignoring public records requests lightly.” He emphasized that government agencies often employ tactics like stonewalling, delays, or reclassifications to dismiss requests, but the secretary of state’s office took the unusual step of attempting to disregard their request completely.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a far-left Democrat first elected in 2016, has a prior background as the county clerk of Bernalillo County, where she had oversight over public records.

Linda Bachman, the director of legislative and executive affairs for the secretary of state’s office, confirmed that a verbal settlement had been reached and that efforts were underway to document the agreement in writing. Bachman stated, “The SOS maintains that it did not violate the requirements of the Inspection of Public Records Act, but deemed it in the best interest of the Office and the public to settle this disputed claim without incurring further litigation costs.”

Patrick M. Brenner articulated the purpose behind their request, saying, “We were looking for voter records, all of which are subject to public inspection. We wanted to educate the public if we know which members of the public to educate.”

The lawsuit reached the settlement stage after a state court dismissed the motion by the New Mexico secretary of state’s office to have the case dismissed. Brenner underscored this outcome as a necessary step in holding public records custodians accountable for their actions and ensuring public access to government records.

Brenner stressed the importance of transparency in upholding a robust democracy and affirmed their commitment to fight for it within the boundaries of the law.

Gabe Vasquez ditches Biden’s NM ‘climate change’ event

Far-left U.S. Rep. was missing at Joe Biden’s “climate change” event in Belen Wednesday, despite the rest of the state’s Democrat congressional delegation in attendance. That included U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernandez, Melanie Stansbury, U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich, and Ben Ray Luján.

Gov. Lujan Grisham was in attendance, as was a slew of Democrat state legislators and even one Republican legislator, New Mexico Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca. 

Baca wrote amid Biden’s speech, “The Arcosa facility in Valencia County is a bright spot in an otherwise grim economy under [Joe] Biden. While I celebrate these new jobs, let’s not forget that good wages only go far in a strong economy. Under Bidenomics, working-class families are being gutted by inflation at the pump and the grocery store. I hope this … visit is more than just a politically motivated publicity stunt distracting us from the work needed to improve the lives of all New Mexicans.”

However, Vasquez was not in attendance in an apparent attempt to distance himself from the woefully unpopular Biden.

KOB 4’s Matt Grubbs noted that Biden confirmed to the crowd, “no Gabe.”

Former Congresswoman Yvette Herrell, who is running to reclaim her seat from Vasquez, wrote, “While Gabe Vasquez is dodging [Biden] and we’re all trying to dodge Bidenomics, I’m in Lea County at the Parade & Fair with real hardworking Americans. I’m not afraid to show up and do the work New Mexicans need in Congress!”

Biden was met with a slew of anti-Biden protesters who were quite vocal about the opposition to the Democrat politician. 

“I don’t think it will give many people jobs, and I think he is a failure. I don’t think anything he has done for us has been successful, and he is a disappointment,” Belen resident Beverly Castillo told KOB 4. 

The New Mexico GOP wrote in a statement about Biden’s visit, “He didn’t address our Governor’s failing education system. He didn’t address his Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s horrible decision to obstruct the financial future of Navajo allottees. He didn’t address our border communities or offer them any solutions to stop the child traffickers, deadly drug smugglers, and cartels who are exploiting our open border. He didn’t address our oil and gas workers, who produce the largest source of revenue in our state and whose jobs are threatened by his administration. Instead, [he] came to brag about his ‘Bidenomics’ which has only resulted in higher prices at the pump, escalating food costs and less money in the pockets of hard-working New Mexicans.”

Lujan Grisham shuffles around Cabinet amid string of resignations

Amid an unprecedented number of resignations in Democrat New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Cabinet, she has tapped her Tourism Department Secretary Jen Paul Schroer to be her Aging and Long-Term Services secretary following the resignation of Katrina Hotrum-Lopez earlier this month.

According to the governor’s office, Lancing Adams, the current Development Director, will be the acting Tourism Secretary.

“I am honored to champion the needs of New Mexico seniors as the new Cabinet Secretary of Aging and Long-term Services. Every New Mexican, at every age, deserves access to quality healthcare,” Schroer said in a Tuesday press release. 

“I see great opportunity in improving how the state assists older adults and their caregivers in maintaining independence, living safely and autonomously. I appreciate the governor’s confidence as I take a disciplined approach to reaching the department’s true potential,” she added.

Sec. Jen Paul Schroer via Gov. Lujan Grisham’s office.

“Secretary Schroer has been a valuable member of my cabinet,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “She has a long history of service to New Mexico that will inform her decisions leading a new department. As an emerging health care leader, Sec. Schroer knows how to get things done and finds creative ways to problem solve – attributes that will serve New Mexicans who use the services in the Aging and Long-Term Services Department well. I look forward to working with her in this new role.”

The governor’s press release reads, “She currently serves on several cross-agency teams including the CYFD Transformation leadership team deploying technology solutions to support foster families and social workers, as well as, supporting workforce recruitment strategies for PED and DOH. Additionally, she was appointed by [Joe] Biden to serve on the U.S. Route 66 Centennial Commission.”

The news also comes after Economic Development Department (NMEDD) Secretary Alicia J. Keyes left the administration.

ABQ Police Dept. issues traffic warning ahead of Joe Biden’s visit

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Joe Biden will be visiting New Mexico to talk about climate change and fundraise for his 2024 campaign. This is Biden’s latest trip to the Land of Enchantment, previously visiting the state to stump for Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in her successful 2022 reelection bid. 

According to the Albuquerque Police Department, “Drivers are advised to avoid I-25 south of I-40 & I-40 west of the Big I on Tuesday afternoon & Wednesday morning. Side streets may also be impacted.”

“Please be patient during this time. There will be no parking allowed along the route for the motorcade. Parked cars will be towed,” the Department continued.

A report from ABQ Raw noted that advice from the Department included, “APD will have a strong presence to manage and control traffic effectively. Officers will be stationed strategically to ensure minimal disruptions.”

“While every effort will be made to maintain traffic flow, the public is urged to exercise patience and understanding, considering potential delays in the specified areas.”

Biden previously visited New Mexico in 2022 to stump for far-left Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in her narrow yet successful reelection bid.

A fundraiser by failed former congressional candidate Randi McGinn will feature Biden and the governor, according to invites sent out to supporters:

Lujan Grisham was one of the first public officials to formally endorse Biden’s announcement that he will seek another term in the White House.

Recycling plant catches fire in ABQ, billowing smoke ‘unhealthy for everyone’

On Sunday afternoon, officials announced they were battling the blazes of a fire at a plastic recycling facility in Albuquerque south of the International Sunport.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue warned in a statement posted at 4:03 p.m., “AFR and Bernalillo County [are] working a multi-alarm, multi-jurisdictional fire. Structures, product and vehicles are involved. Fire is not under control. Stay clear of the area of Bobby Foster and south University”

A health alert expiring Monday morning was sent out for Albuquerque and Bernalillo County residents late Sunday evening due to “smoke [that] contains hazardous air pollutants,” and expires Monday morning.

“The fire is at a facility that stores plastics. Please avoid the area. For respiratory health, stay inside [and] keep windows and doors closed. If needed for comfort, use air conditioners on recycle/recirculation mode,” wrote the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health arm. 

The alert made clear, “This smoke is unhealthy for everyone, and people should limit outdoor activity tonight in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.”

“Matt DeMaria, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said the forecast called for westerly winds to carry the smoke east over the city Sunday evening. He said overnight the winds were expected to blow the smoke into the South Valley, and temperature inversion could make for more unhealthy conditions tomorrow morning,” reported the Albuquerque Journal.

“All (the toxic pollutants) could be trapped lower in the atmosphere, which could potentially pose a health risk,” DeMaria said.

Violent slaying of ABQ woman catches national press

The family of a 23-year-old woman from Albuquerque, who tragically lost her life when confronting the thieves who stole her car, demands justice for their loved one. The incident involved a 13-year-old suspect who shot Sydney Wilson after she tracked her stolen vehicle to a Smith’s grocery store and gas station in Southwest Albuquerque using a GPS app.

According to KOAT Action News, Sydney Wilson’s family stated that she was fatally shot by the 13-year-old suspect when she approached her stolen white Hyundai. The minor later surrendered to the authorities and is currently held at Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center, facing charges of murder, tampering with evidence, and unlawful possession of a handgun.

The national press, including Fox News, is now picking up the story.

Before the fatal shooting, the teen suspect and other juveniles had stolen alcohol from Walgreens and recklessly driven the stolen car. As the situation escalated, the car’s driver crashed into a black Mustang and a curb while attempting to escape, leading to the deployment of the car’s airbags.

Sydney Wilson’s sister, Crystal Miller, recalled arriving at the scene shortly after the attempt to resuscitate her sister. She expressed deep anguish and regret for not being there to prevent the tragedy, as Sydney had called her moments before the shooting to inform her about finding her stolen car.

Despite Crystal’s guidance against confronting the thief, Sydney was determined to reclaim her car, displaying her strong-willed nature. Her family believes that even though the suspect is young, he should face severe consequences for his actions.

Crystal Miller emphasized that she wants the harshest penalties for the teen and even believes that the suspect’s parents should be held accountable.

Sydney Wilson’s mother, Deidra Wilson, echoed the sentiment, expressing concern over the lack of adult supervision and the need to improve the home environment for children in New Mexico. She questions why a child as young as 13 was involved in such dangerous criminal activity.

“I want the maximum sentence for him and the family involved. He is 13 years old. There’s no reason he should have been on the streets without an adult,” Wilson said. 

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina acknowledged the broader issue of minors engaging in criminal behavior throughout the state and emphasized the importance of uniting as a community to foster a healthy environment for children.

The family’s calls for justice and accountability highlight the need to address the larger problem of juvenile involvement in crimes and ensure that such incidents are not repeated.

During the 2023 Legislative Session, Democrats made it easier for underage offenders to be sprung from prison, even those like the suspect who had killed another. Therefore, the suspect, if charged, will be eligible for parole early, depriving the Wilsons of peace of mind knowing the perpetrator is behind bars.

In stunning move, Attorney General Torrez turns on Gov. Lujan Grisham

In a stunning move of opposition to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced a new Civil Rights Division in his office, a proposal the governor pocket vetoed from the 2023 Legislative Session.

“We are going to establish the first dedicated office focused on protecting the rights of everyone in this country, but particularly the children of this country, and that includes Latino children,” Torrez said before the start of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) convention, where he is being honored. 

Torrez says the division, vetoed in S.B. 426, will concentrate on civil rights cases and prioritize protecting children.

According to KRQE 13, he told the crowd, “Now, we didn’t get that bill over the finish line, but when we had the veto, I made a promise to this community, and I’m going to make a promise to my extended community across the country: we’re going to create the civil rights division in the Attorney General’s Office anyway!”

“We are re-allocating within the agency, and frankly, it’s a position that I didn’t want to be in. I didn’t want to be in a position where I had to repurpose some of the resources that we had dedicated to other issue areas, but I think it’s so important to start better protecting children and start improving education that we take a more affirmative role and build out this institution,” Torrez said to the ire of the governor, who expressed the Division would “muddy the waters for agencies already tasked with child welfare and that no funding was set aside for the division,” according to the report.

Because of the route the Attorney General is taking, Torrez said his prosecutors won’t be able to gather evidence ahead of litigation, but rather only after they make a public filing. “One of the other things that we don’t have that was included in the bill is the ability to gather discovery before litigation. A civil investigative demand. Where we could quietly gather information before we decided whether to initiate a formal action,” Torrez says, “Now, because we don’t have that power, we’re going to end up like all other civil rights plaintiffs—we’re going to file an action which is a big public process and then go through the discovery procedures after that.”

KOAT 13 added, “Torrez said he’s already hired two attorneys for the division and hopes to hire several more and a division director before the year is up. He added that the new office will also focus on equity in education and jail conditions.”

Another Lujan Grisham Cabinet secretary jumps ship

In the latest blow to the severely unstable administration of Democrat New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, another Cabinet secretary has jumped ship just weeks after Economic Development Department (NMEDD) Secretary Alicia J. Keyes left the administration.

The governor’s office announced the abrupt departure of New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez Monday, saying she had retired Monday, the same day as the announcement.

Hotrum-Lopez was one of the longest-serving officials in the administration, being at the Department since August 2019.

The former Cabinet secretary said, “It has been the great privilege of my life to work with the incredible team at Aging and Long-Term Services, as well as all the incredible state workers throughout New Mexico.”

“During my tenure, our department navigated an unprecedented global pandemic, historic wildfires, and all the everyday challenges of providing services throughout New Mexico,” she added.

Lujan Grisham’s health policy advisor Gina DeBlassie will step into the role and serve as acting secretary.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported, “Hotrum-Lopez’s retirement is the latest in a long series of departures of Cabinet secretaries under Lujan Grisham’s administration. Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Deborah Romero left at the end of 2022, followed in January by secretaries in the Public Education, Human Services and General Services departments. In June, the secretary for the Department of Information Technology was reassigned.”

Scroll to Top