Citing a rare state unit’s budget surplus, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) last Thursday slashed by 80% the fees charged by its pipeline safety bureau. The PRC unit conducts pipeline and facility safety inspections and helps enforce state and federal regulations for oil and natural gas pipelines.

What the five-member elected state regulatory commission attributed to “prudent oversight” of the pipeline safety unit’s funds has produced a surplus of about $500,000 going into the new (July 1-June 30) fiscal year.

While the safety fund’s positive balance caused the regulators to consider eliminating the fees in the new fiscal year, they eventually voted unanimously to charge 20% of the current fees. “I’m not comfortable with suspending the fees completely,” Commissioner Sandy Jones said.

The commissioners said they wanted to provide some security in the face of the current uncertain economic times that the state and nation face, a spokesperson said.

Assessed to what the state considers jurisdictional oil, gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators, the fees are divided between residential and commercial service categories. Starting July 1 the charges for both will be 80% lower, following a recommendation by Commissioner Jason Marks.

Under New Mexico’s law, the PRC is required to conduct an annual public review of the fees collected and payments made to the Pipeline Safety Fund. The regulatory commission then reports that assessment to the state legislature and the state Department of Finance and Administration. The PRC uses that data to determine the annual rates required to carry out provisions of the Pipeline Safety Act.

“At a time when other agencies are having to increase fees simply to make ends meet, we are able to drastically reduce fees while continuing to provide services that are critical to ensuring the safety and well-being of New Mexicans,” said PRC Vice Chairman Jerome Block.

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