- Associated Press - Friday, December 14, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A professional advocate for the renewable energy industry was appointed Friday to lead the New Mexico state agency overseeing oil well permits and incentives for wind and solar energy production, in a striking departure from the current Republican-led administration.

New Mexico Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her first three Cabinet appointments, emphasizing efforts to expand the clean-energy economy in a state that relies heavily on oil and gas production for public spending. She also highlighted plans to fill vacant jobs at state agencies and to shore up health care access in remote areas by tapping into more federal Medicaid dollars.

Come Jan. 1, Sarah Cottrell Propst will take the top job at the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department that runs a broad range of energy and mining programs and oversees state forestry management, fire prevention efforts and 35 state parks.

Propst leads a regional trade association for renewable energy developers known as the Interwest Energy Alliance, and previously served as an energy and environmental policy adviser to former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson. She’ll take the reins from agency Secretary Ken McQueen, a former vice president at gas and oil producer WPX Energy.

Lujan Grisham campaigned on promises to institute new rules to reduce industrial methane leaks and emissions. Propst said the administration would take a “firm but inclusive” approach to developing that program.

“We’re going to have an open door. That’s how we are going to do it,” Propst said.

Lujan Grisham succeeds termed-out Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in January after defeating Republican Congressman Steve Pearce by a 14 percent margin.

Hinting at changes to come in the health care realm, Lujan Grisham and newly designated Human Services Secretary David Scrase said they are likely to unwind a state plan to collect premiums and co-pays from some Medicaid recipients, describing the measures as ineffective.

“Those premiums and co-pays, the national experience has not been good,” Lujan Grisham said. “What it typically does is send more people to the emergency room and less people to get in early to see their practitioner. My sense is that we aren’t going to change our mind about that national body of data.”

Scrase brings both private and public sector experience to the job at Human Services, as a professor of internal medicine and geriatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, a former chief operating officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services and a practicing physician.

The Human Services Department administers about $7 billion in annual federal and state funds for Medicaid and other services for low-income individuals and families.

Lujan Grisham also tapped Albuquerque Budget Officer Olivia Padilla-Jackson to lead the Finance and Administration Department and develop the governor-elect’s budget proposal by Jan. 10 for the upcoming fiscal year. State government is expecting budget surpluses in excess of $1 billion for both the current fiscal year and the year starting July 1 that are linked closely to a booming oil sector.

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