PNM and Carbon Pollution: Will consumers get the shaft?

Jeff Sterba

PNM Resources CEO Jeff Sterba

Right now in Washington, members of Congress are debating a twist to climate control legislation that could lead to a massive corporate giveaway for oil and gas companies.

The Energy & Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is considering the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, (ACES) a comprehensive climate and energy legislative package that would limit carbon pollution and require the development of renewable energy. The bill is expected to go on to the full House of Representatives, and later this summer, to the Senate.

The fact that Congress is finally moving to limit carbon pollution by “capping” the overall amount of emissions allowed and issuing permits to emit carbon within those limits is a crucial step toward slowing global warming. Read what Al Gore has to say about it here.

What’s not so great is what Congress may decide to do with the trillions of dollars that could be generated by requiring companies to pay for the permits.

The plan that makes the most sense is to make companies pay for the permits, therefore making them financially responsible for limiting their emissions and forcing them to develop alternative forms of energy. The estimated billions that would be raised by a 100 percent auction of the permits would be returned to energy customers – you and me.

But this week, news emerged that some in Congress are apparently being swayed by the powerful oil and gas companies, who want Congress to agree to give them the permits for free.

New Mexico’s own Jeff Sterba (CEO of PNM Resources) was among a long string of utility executives who told the House committee last month that requiring companies to cap carbon emissions and develop alternate forms of energy would force them to charge their customers more.

New Mexicans know PNM well.  It’s the company that was just fined $6.9 million for federal and state air quality violations at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners. According to the New Mexico Environment Department, it was the largest fine ever levied by the state for air quality violations.

In light of those violations and others, New Mexicans need to question whether we can really trust utility companies to act on their own to reduce carbon emissions.

Moreover, if there is really no penalty for polluting (because the fines will be given right back to energy companies like PNM), then where is their incentive to “pass the savings” back to the consumer?  The whole construct just doesn’t make sense.

Congress needs to resist pressure from the oil and gas industry and hold companies financially responsible for their carbon pollution. Implement the carbon caps – and give the billions of dollars raised by the 100 percent auction of the carbon pollution back to energy consumers where it belongs.

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