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Commission was created in 1999 by merging two agencies

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FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has received statewide attention over the past few years as it has heard arguments in controversial energy cases.

Major cases like the Public Service Company of New Mexico's various filings, including its 2017 integrated resource plan and its application to abandon the San Juan Generating Station, have generated statewide and national news coverage.

More: PNM proposes plan to move toward renewable energy sources, close SJGS

The decisions made by the PRC have been controversial at times, leading to some state legislators calling for transformation at the PRC. One proposal would have at least some of the commissioners appointed to their position rather than elected. 

More: PRC overhaul would create three-member commission appointed by governor

Here's a look at what the PRC is, why it exists and what it does.

History of the PRC

The PRC dates back about two decades to a constitutional amendment on the 1996 ballot. The amendment abolished the State Corporation Commission and the state Public Utility Commission. It replaced those two commissions with the PRC. The change went into effect Jan. 1, 1999.

The PRC took over the duties of both those agencies.

Prior to 1999, the State Corporation Commission consisted of three elected members who regulated the telecommunications, insurance and trucking industries, and oversaw interstate oil and gas pipelines. The commission also ran the state Fire Marshal's Office.

Meanwhile, the Public Utility Commission consisted of three members appointed to six-year terms by the governor.

The two commissions were replaced by the PRC, which consisted of five elected officials. Today, the PRC has a staff of approximately 130 employees, including highly trained lawyers who serve as hearing examiners.

While the PRC is probably best known for regulating utility cases, it has a broad role that encompasses telecommunication and transportation — including ambulances, taxi service, limousines and towing companies. It also oversees the state Fire Marshal's Office, and enforces state and federal regulations in terms of pipeline safety.

Who are the PRC commissioners?

Cynthia Hall: Hall is a lawyer who was elected in 2016 to serve as the representative from District 1. District 1 includes the northern part of Albuquerque. She has previously served as vice chairwoman of the commission.

Jefferson Byrd: Byrd is a rancher with a background in environmental engineering. He was elected in 2018 to represent District 2. District 2 encompasses the eastern half of the state.

Valerie Espinoza: Espinoza has served as the representative from District 3 since 2012. District 3 represents the north-central area of the state. She previously served two terms as the Santa Fe County clerk. She is currently the vice chairwoman of the commission.

Theresa Becenti-Aguilar: Becenti-Aguilar is the chairwoman of the PRC and represents District 4, the northwestern corner of the state. She was elected in 2018, but previously served on the PRC from 2010 until 2014. Prior to being appointed to the PRC in 2010, Becenti-Aguilar worked as the Native American liaison to the PRC for almost four years.

Stephen Fischmann: Fischmann is a former state senator who previously worked in finance and operations, and as general manager at Levi Strauss & Co. He was elected in 2018 to represent District 5, the southwest corner of the state.

More: Becenti-Aguilar wins PRC District 4 primary election

Protecting ratepayers

While the PRC still oversees the various categories it inherited from the Corporation Commission, the cases previously handled by the Public Utility Commission tend to generate the most attention.

The PRC’s duty is to ensure that ratepayers receive reliable power, water, natural gas or sewer service at affordable rates.

“My work is intense,” said Becenti-Aguilar. “My work is protecting the ratepayers of New Mexico.”

She said that ranges from regulating large utilities to small ones.

More: Unhappy customers call for oversight of AV Water

“Our voice, it affects every person’s pocket book,” Becenti-Aguilar said, adding that chile farmers, ranchers and shepherds are all impacted by rates and would not otherwise have a voice in the process.

Becenti-Aguilar said she never forgets that it is the everyday people of New Mexico who are impacted by PRC decisions.

“We feel the pulse of every New Mexican’s pocketbook,” she said.

More: A year later, still no clean water

But not every New Mexican will have the PRC protecting the rates they pay. If the utility is run by a city, like the Farmington Electric Utility System, it is not regulated by the PRC. Mutual domestic water associations are also outside the PRC's purview. 

A full list of what the PRC oversees and what it does not regulate can be found at nmprc.state.nm.us.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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An earlier version incorrectly identified which commissioner serves as vice-chairwoman. The Daily Times makes every effort to publish fair and accurate information. If you find an error, please call the editor at 505-564-4624.

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