- Associated Press - Friday, August 7, 2020

AZTEC, N.M. (AP) - Regulations in New Mexico that prohibit residential utility customers from being disconnected are set to expire, meaning service at some households could be disconnected for missing payments during the pandemic.

A new rule would not become effective until mid-October, The Farmington Daily Times reported. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has raised concerns about the gap in time between the two regulations.

Commission general counsel Judith Amer said there was nothing they could do to prevent it, but expressed hope that the utilities will voluntarily choose not to disconnect residential customers during the gap.

When Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued orders prohibiting non-essential business in early March, the commission followed suit by prohibiting the disconnection of residential utility customers. This emergency rule, which was approved on March 18, impacts only the utilities regulated by the commission.

Those utilities include Public Service Company of New Mexico, New Mexico Gas Company and other privately-owned water utilities, gas utilities and investor-owned and cooperative electric utilities.

Municipal utilities like Farmington Electric Utility System and Aztec Utility Services do not fall under the commission’s jurisdiction. However, both have chosen to forego disconnections for non-payment, but they are soon set to expire.

The commission now is seeking a rule to permanently bar residential utility disconnections due to nonpayment during the pandemic. A hearing is set on Sept. 25. The earliest the rule could become effective is October, creating the gap.

Unlike the emergency rule, the potential new rule will not have an expiration date and would be effective as long as the governor’s public health orders are implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but studies suggest people can also be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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