Pro-energy group to ramp up involvement in NM

James Fenton
jfenton@daily-times.com
Shawn Martini, senior director of communications for Consumer Energy Alliance, talks during an interview earlier this month at The Daily Times.

FARMINGTON — A Houston-based pro-energy group with chapter offices in Texas, Alaska and Florida plans to become more involved in energy policy, education and advocacy in New Mexico.

Consumer Energy Alliance is making in-roads into the state, said Shawn Martini, CEA communications director, and has taken a greater interest in energy policy and regulatory action in New Mexico over the last few years.

Martini said the nine-year-old group advocates for energy policy that "ensures affordable energy for consumers" and would establish the group's presence in the state with a "mobile chapter" office.

"Northwest New Mexico, for our organization's  purposes, is a focus ... for us,"  Martini said during a visit to Farmington earlier this month. "That's why we're setting up shop here, to tout the benefits of the industry and what comes with it and help people better understand the energy industry's role in the state."

But the group isn't able to afford to expand into a bricks-and-mortar office with a state-level executive director. Instead, Martini said that he will travel from his Denver office to the Four Corners area twice a month or more to meet with industry, local and state officials and the general public to show its support for the energy industry.

He said renewable energies like wind and solar lack the base-load power availability of "reliable" energies like coal and nuclear.

Martini said he introduced his group in Albuquerque earlier this month at the 2nd Annual New Mexico Energy Outlook Summit.

In the coming months, Martini said, CEA hopes to launch a local advisory board with members from industry and local, state and economic development groups. An initial meeting or event has yet to be scheduled, he said.

He said he plans to return to the area early next month to show support for hydraulic fracturing operations around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. In March, a coalition of environmental groups filed suit in federal court to protest the BLM's permitting of hydraulic fracturing wells in that area. The BLM Farmington Field Office is expected to finalize its amended resource management plan for the area by the end of the year.

"The coal plants, issues with the Clean Power Plan, venting and flaring, all these types of rules that make it hard to produce and keep people at work and keep the economy growing when we're faced with low oil prices, it makes it really difficult," Martini said. "So we're going to do what we can to provide a voice for the consumers to say, 'Hey, (energy production) is something we need.' We can have both production and environmental protection. We don't need the types of regulations that are going to severely limit the types of production in the area here that hurt schools and our kids' future here."

Mariel Nanasi, executive director for the Santa Fe-based environmental group New Energy Economy, said the group's downplay of renewable energy resources like solar and wind is disingenuous.

"(Groups like CEA) are not being honest about representing consumers," Nanasi said. "Renewables like solar and wind are proven to be economically viable and cheaper than dirty coal and fossil fuel generation. Coal, specifically, has a target on its back and it should."

Paul Gessing, president of the Albuquerque-based Rio Grande Foundation, said the state is in need of all the help it can get to support an industry that contributes revenue in the form of taxes and fees that make up about 30 percent of the state's general fund.

"Energy obviously is a hot-button issue these days, and President (Barack) Obama has been uniquely hostile to the energy, so I welcome anyone who is willing to put resources forward and try to engage in education and advocacy," Gessing said. "We welcome them to New Mexico to help in the causes that we work on."

Gessing said that his group, like others, is not able to travel to every hearing or forum to promote the fossil-fuel industry, so out-of-state groups like CEA are welcome.

Unlike conservative states, New Mexico lacks delegate support in Congress over issues that impact the industry regionally, he said.

"New Mexico is pretty unique in that most these energy states like Oklahoma and Texas have the full support of the traditional energy producing industry, whereas New Mexico, we have a federal delegation that's not necessarily the most supportive."

Gessing said he was encouraged by recent support for lifting the crude oil export ban from Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and Steve Pearce, R-N.M.

"That was a wise move on one of the issues that CEA works on, so we welcome them to New Mexico."

For more information on CEA, call 713-337-8820 or go to consumerenergyalliance.org.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.