New Mexico residents are concerned about environmental justice

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — On the southern edge of New Mexico’s largest city is a Hispanic neighborhood that used to be a patchwork of family ranches and quiet streets, but industrial development has stalled over the decades, with pollution as a result. .

Neighbors point to regular plumes of smoke and the smell of chemicals wafting through the neighborhood at night, saying the pollution has disproportionately affected the area compared to more affluent neighborhoods in the Albuquerque area.

Now residents have come forward with a proposal as they fight for environmental justice, and members of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association, supporters of the nearby Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge and others gathered Monday afternoon to roll it out and request that Albuquerque and Bernalillo de county regulators are holding a hearing to consider the measure.

Modeled after regulations in New Jersey and Minnesota, the proposal calls for the region’s air quality board to consider a range of health, environmental and equity indicators before approving new permits. It would also pave the way for regular reviews to ensure compliance for businesses getting permits in already congested areas.

Eric Jantz, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said the battle has been going on for generations.

“This piece of regulation represents a critical shift, a fundamental shift in how environmental health is viewed in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County,” he said, noting that pressure is mounting in New Mexico and elsewhere for regulators to weigh human health as a defining factor in whether the industry can do business in deprived areas.

Mountain View is already home to auto salvage yards and Albuquerque’s sewage treatment plant. Residents also fought against plans for a new asphalt plant.

The issue of environmental justice resonates at the state and federal levels as some politicians push for stricter regulation. President Joe Biden took office with an ambitious plan to help underprivileged communities, but activists were frustrated with the pace of progress.

In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration has passed stricter emissions standards for oil and gas development, and the state’s Department of the Environment has just announced the creation of an environmental crimes task force.

The governor just finished a trip to Egypt for the United Nations climate conference, where she praised her environmental policies. Still, some environmentalists say democratically-led legislatures need to do more to protect communities overrun by industrial development.

Jantz said the proposal submitted by Mountain View residents could make New Mexico’s population center a hub for innovation, as companies would need to find creative ways to conduct business without harming public health or the environment.

The City of Albuquerque’s Department of Environmental Health said in a statement Tuesday that its air quality program is committed to environmental justice and officials look forward to reviewing the measure and working with the community.

Mountain View resident Magdalena Avila has been collecting data on cases of known contamination in her neighborhood and elsewhere in Albuquerque’s South Valley.

“There’s a long, long history,” she said. “And it’s just essential that we develop community-based policy initiatives and this is what this is — it comes from the community in terms of what we need.”

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