Friday, February 04, 2011

Natural Gas Shortage Makes For Martinez's First Mini-Crisis, Plus: Energy News Has A Third World Feel; How To Prevent A Repeat? 

Governor Martinez's first mini-crisis began to melt away as more mild weekend temperatures began asserting themselves in temperate New Mexico. But the natural gas shortage that afflicted a large swath of the state during a nearly unprecedented polar plunge did give her occasion to issue her first "state of emergency" declaration, even if that sounds more important than its actual impact.

At mid-day Thursday, with as many as 30,000 homes and businesses starved for heat from the rare arctic cold, the Guv took to the network airwaves for a four minute appearance (KOAT & KOB aired it live; KRQE deferred but all three had solid coverage. When it comes to weather and/or crime, you can't beat TV news).

It was interesting to see the first female Governor assert command and control. She appeared well-briefed and reasonably confident, although she started haltingly. Hitting stride, she dispensed information and advice that was mostly common-sense, but probably reassuring to those shivering.

It was the first time since her inauguration that voters and nonvoters alike took more than a passing interest in state government. While not imparting a sense of gravitas, Martinez did impart a basic confidence that probably left most citizens satisfied, even as they hunted for their long lost thermal underwear.


Still, the New Mexico news had a third-worldish sound to it as the natural gas shortage dragged on into the evening hours of Thursday, forcing yet another shutdown of the public schools and much of government for Friday. That the problem appears to have originated over in Texas made the news harder to swallow.

Even if this is only a once in a generation event, Governor Martinez needs to join with Senator Bingaman, chairman of the Senate energy committee, the heads of the electric and gas utilities, appropriate legislators and other relevant state and federal officials to get to the bottom of the shortage and see what can be done to avoid a similar one in the future. The Public Regulation Commission (PRC) will no doubt get involved, but their record is spotty at best when it comes to serving the state's consumers. Besides, this is a federal-state issue.

Build an emergency back-up system? At what cost?

Martinez has repeatedly called for transparency and accountability in public affairs. Let's see her apply that to the natural gas shortage by having some good old fashioned public scrutiny on what went wrong and why.


Meanwhile, at the semi-silent Legislature, the heat was on, but not much political heat. There is a feeling afoot that this 60 day session is more like a 30 day meet, as noted in the ABQ Chamber of Commerce newsletter:

The inactivity of the session seems a bit like a 30 day session where the only job is to pass a budget and go home. A 60 day session allows all legislators to introduce anything they want to; all bills are germane. In a 30 day session, the Governor must agree to any bill introduction which is not budget- related. So, most believe this session will continue to mosey along and eventually get a budget passed and a few other things passed and killed and call it a day.

And the reason it feels like one of those shorter sessions is simple: there's no money to spend or squabble over. It's all about cutting. And the amount that it appears we need to cut--about $200 million right now--is not the kind of number that is causing widespread panic and consternation.

Government at all levels here has entered a period of quietude as a result of the Great Recession which has taken up residence here like it's at one of those extended stay hotels.

Sen. Griego
State Senator Phil Griego is yelling "time out on the set!" when it comes to the controversy over the state's tax rebate program for Hollywood. With conflicting studies on the economic impact of the 25% rebate, Griego's call for an interim committee to come with an authoritative study before the rebate is tampered with seems about right. He proposed:

...an interim Film Investment Committee to review and analyze the Film Tax Credit. The Committee will look at the advantages and disadvantages and recommend legislation for any policy changes.

"Let's hold off before we do anything and really study the issue, then make a determination...whether 25 percent is too much and we have to go back to 15 percent." Griego said.

But even if the tax credit is left untouched, some feel the aggressive opposition to it may have already damaged New Mexico's film industry and that Hollywood will be more reluctant to shoot here. We hope they're wrong.

Another measure making the rounds at the Roundhouse would increase the transparency under which the industry operates. Approval of that could help keep the film rebate untouched for the time being.


"It feels like you're outside of the United States." So went one of the descriptions of Taos, heard in this video report of the northern New Mexico town on ABC's Good Morning America.

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