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Columns

  • Unsustainable subsidies and an unstable system

    On Dec. 3, while 190 governments were meeting for two weeks of climate change talks in Lima, Peru (which, after 30 hours of overtime, produced a compromise deal that environmental groups said “went from weak to weaker to weakest”), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed to a package that continues Germany’s optimistic ‘ though unrealistic — goal and increases subsidies for measures designed to cut emissions.
    Regarding Germany’s “climate protection package,” Barbara Hendricks, Environment Minister, admitted: “if no additional steps were taken, Germany … would miss its targets by between five to eight percentage points.”
    The results of the German agreement will require operators of coal-fueled power plants to reduce emissions by at least 22 million tons — the equivalent of closing eight of them. The Financial Times (FT) believes the plan will “lead to brownouts in German homes.”
    With the goal of generating 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, Germany has aggressively pursued a green dream with unsustainable subsidies that have produced an unstable system described by FT, on Nov. 25, as: “a lesson in doing too much too quickly on energy policy.”

  • A white noise Christmas

    So, another Christmas is nearly upon us. The streets will soon be littered with drying Yuletide trees, the shipping industry busy with items being returned and neighbors taking bets on how long it will take that jerk across the street to take down his 54,000 watt solar-flare holiday display.
    Perhaps we should take a step back and remember what the true spirit of the holiday season is fear of losing sunlight! Winter Solstice is Sunday, the “shortest day of the year.”
    This is very confusing though. I own a rather nice stopwatch and I’ve carefully measured Solstice for several years running, and I’ve discovered that it is not the shortest day. In fact, it’s the same length, 24 hours. I’m going to have to do more research on this.
    Pagans, Druids, Wiccans and other Sun worshipers will gather at Stonehenge “hoping in earnest” that the Sun will rise again. As daylight hours continue to wane, the ancients would worry that the Sun had finally given up on human civilization and might decide to call it quits. Hence the celebrations upon the “return of sunlight” as the days would again begin to increase after Solstice.

  • What is PNM thinking?

    New Mexicans breathed a sigh of relief last year in hearing that PNM would be closing down two of the dirtiest coal-fired plants in the nation.
    Those two generators at the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico are responsible for six million tons of carbon pollution in our skies every year, not to mention other pollutants like mercury, sulfur dioxides, etc.
    Unfortunately, our relief was short-lived. PNM has a backward plan to make up for its loss of generating capacity from closing half of the San Juan coal plant. Rather than making an investment in clean, abundant solar and wind power, PNM has stuck with what it knows best — dirty, expensive and dangerous coal and nuclear generators.
    PNM proposes to derive more than 40 percent of its total generating capacity from coal through 2053! In addition, it will increase its use of nuclear power (created at the Palo Verde site in Arizona) to 30 percent, while getting less than 4 percent from solar and no new wind.
    At a time when the rest of the world is in a race to develop the most efficient technologies to lead the world into a cleaner and prosperous energy future, the powers at PNM are stuck trying to extract every bit of profit from coal and nuclear.

  • Money management could ease personal spending woes

    A recent story from the Washington Post described Black Friday, and all the news coverage of that shopping extravaganza, as a spectacle of the poor performing for the entertainment of the rest of us.
    The writer likened Black Friday to “The Hunger Games,” the science fiction movie series. In that story line, the provinces that lost a war are forced to send their best young people to a competition where they are televised as they hunt and kill each other, for the amusement of the pampered dilettantes of the winning country.
    The story suggested people of higher income don’t have to bother with the frantic bargain hunting of Black Friday. Only poor people will fight each other for cheap television sets and video games.
    None of the news coverage I saw reported how much of that Black Friday shopping was done to purchase necessities, how much was spent for things not really needed, or how much was spent with borrowed money that the borrowers couldn’t afford to pay back.
    A few days earlier, the financial website Wallethub reported that New Mexico ranks third highest nationally in the amount of money individuals spend compared to their earnings.

  • Overall health could be improved with help of dental therapists

    We have a dental crisis in New Mexico. Our state is underserved and many areas do not even have a practicing dentist.
    Many across our state go without dental care, and those who do get care in rural areas have to travel a long way to get it. For several years, I worked as a dentist in Fort Sumner, and I treated patients from a lot of areas to include Santa Rosa, Roswell, Santa Fe, Vaughn, Albuquerque and some from Texas border towns.
    Many of my patients spent several hours in a car each way just to get care at our clinic. Some came simply because they knew me. Others came because we used a sliding payment scale based on income and didn’t turn anyone away. Still others couldn’t get an appointment elsewhere. There are so few dentists, and even fewer who accept Medicaid, so our clinic was their best choice.
    By the time they arrived, some had advanced oral disease, and most were in desperate need of extractions, partially due to lack of education and poor access to dental care that many could not afford.

  • Supporting transparency is good for the economy

    Day in and day out, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is on the front lines, supporting the public’s right to know.
    FOG has been educating, advocating and litigating for transparency and accountability in our government for almost 25 years.
    So what? Why should you care? Isn’t access to public records a game of inside baseball that only political wonks and the press play? If you care about the state of the economy, you should care about open government. It’s not just about transparency and good government. It’s also about jobs and economic development, say a growing number of experts and policymakers.
    Journalists were the first to push for access to public records in the ’60s and ’70s to find out what government was doing and to hold public officials accountable. However, today requests for public records are predominantly filed by businesses, outnumbering requests from the press by three or four to one, according to one nationwide survey.

  • Misconceptions abound on 'Right to Work' issue

    In the wake of the 2014 elections, New Mexico has a unique opportunity to enacted long-overdue economic reforms. The goal of those reforms must be to wean our struggling economy off of an increasingly, unreliable Washington by developing a strong private sector.
    At the top of the agenda is a “right to work” law which, far from being “anti-union” would simply prohibit so-called “closed shop” agreements that require workers to pay union dues as a pre-condition of employment. Forcing workers to pay dues for any organization is simply wrong. Private sector unions can and should exist and they would be better advocates for workers if they actually have to prove they are worthy of membership.
    It is worth noting that 20 of the 24 current “right to work” states have higher private sector unionization rates than New Mexico. In other words, due to the historical weakness of New Mexico’s private sector, these unions have had relatively few members. If New Mexico can strengthen its private sector with “right to work” and some other pro-growth policy reforms, private sector unions could see real growth.

  • Smart tax moves to consider before New Year's Eve

    The flurry of activity during the last weeks of December can make it difficult to pay attention to finances. If you want to save on your tax bill come April, now’s the time to make some critical moves.
    If you have a tax advisor or financial planner, it’s wise to run these ideas by them first. Here are some suggestions to investigate by year-end with follow-up in the new year:
    1. Accelerate your deductions and defer your income. It makes the list every year because it works. To keep your 2014 tax bill low, try to defer bonuses, consulting income or self-employment income until 2015 while taking as many deductions as you legally can in 2014. Deductions may include paying your January federal and state income taxes before Dec. 31, real estate taxes and interest payments.
    2. Bunch non-urgent medical expenses this year or move them to 2015. If you have non-emergency medical procedures coming up, it’s a good idea to pack them into the same year so people under age 65 can exceed the 10 percent adjusted gross income (AGI) minimum for medical expenses. For those over age 65, the AGI minimum is 7.5 percent.

  • Learning to negotiate with suppliers is a business art

    Many businesses rely on suppliers or vendors for inventory, raw materials or services, and that makes contract negotiation skills essential to securing the best prices, terms and product quality. Becoming a skillful negotiator requires a business owner to know what his business needs and can do without and what materials costs are common in his industry. It also requires flexibility and a willingness to compromise — qualities that can lead to a sustainable business-to-business relationship.
    Price isn’t everything: Sometimes getting the best price for a product requires a business to buy in volume or agree to inconvenient delivery schedules. Sometimes it means getting a product of lower quality. Not all businesses can afford this. A lean manufacturer who wants raw materials right when they’re needed on the assembly line might be willing to pay more for this guarantee; for this business, punctual delivery isn’t negotiable. The same is true for a restaurateur who needs regular stocks of perishable goods in time to prepare fresh meals. But a business with lots of warehouse space might get a deep discount by buying in large volumes at irregular intervals.

  • Water experts clash on what’s possible, probable on Gila River

    In the water wars, the latest battleground is the Gila River. Recently, the Interstate Stream Commission voted to take the first step in acquiring more water through a federal settlement. The controversial decision followed a 10-year public discussion in which the stakeholders grew too polarized to agree on any of a dozen options.
    For the record, I can see both sides of this intensely divisive question. Because precedent and money are on the line, not to mention the credibility of the ISC, it’s worth a harder look.
    Ostensibly, it’s water users vs. environmentalists, but it’s also about how diverse residents in the state’s four southwestern counties of Luna, Grant, Hidalgo and Catron see their future. And it’s something of a clash of water titans.
    Through a 2004 settlement, the four counties have the opportunity to obtain an additional 14,000 acre-feet of water a year, a 47 percent increase. It’s enough to supply 24,000 to 40,000 homes annually, provide irrigation water for farmers and keep water in the river for endangered species, according to State Engineer Scott Verhines.
    What community in New Mexico wouldn’t jump at the chance?
    The federal settlement act provides $66 million for water projects or up to $128 million for storage. Cost estimates, however, are upwards of $575 million.