By Tracy Dingmann
Environmental groups and residents of Sunland Park, N.M. were swift to express their keen disappointment today at the state of New Mexico’s decision to grant the Camino Real landfill a 10-year permit.
Residents of Sunland Park have long said they don’t want the landfill in their midst and say they are worried about known and unknown factors affecting their health and quality of life. The landfill sits atop one of the largest aquifers in the Southwest and is suspected of affecting the purity of the drinking water it provides.
“We are extremely disappointed that Governor Martinez and Secretary-designate Martin chose to side with corporate polluters instead of protecting families in Sunland Park,” said Michael Casaus, a senior field organizing manager with the Sierra Club. “Elected officials should step up their efforts to protect New Mexico’s precious clean water supplies, instead of increasing profits for out-of-state corporations.
“Over 90 percent of the waste that ends up in this landfill comes from outside New Mexico, primarily from Texas. This ruling sends a clear message that not only is New Mexico open to business, as Governor Martinez proclaimed in her recent State of State Address, but is apparently open to out-of-state trash as well,” said Casaus.
A Classic Case
Nearly 100 percent of the residents of Sunland Park are poor and Hispanic. They have long complained about the dust, smell and non-stop activity at the landfill and have said it could hamper further economic development in the area, said Casaus, who has worked extensively in the community.
“The operation of the landfill, combined with all the other environmental abuses that Sunland Park has endured for decades, have blighted it as a site for the economic development it desperately needs if it is ever to break the cycle of poverty, poor education, unemployment, and the other social ills from which it suffers,” he said.
“The Sierra Club will continue to support Sunland Park residents in their pursuit of clean air, clean water and environmental justice.”
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center Reacts
Reaction came also from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), which had filed a motion for Sunland Park residents Robert Ardovino and Luz Vargas. The motion had asked state Environment Department Secretary David Martin to deny the application on the grounds that the it was inaccurate and not in compliance with New Mexico’s Solid Waste Management Regulations.
“New Mexico took a grand stumble backwards in allowing industry to regulate itself,” said Robert Ardovino, movant and Sunland Park resident. “This ruling squarely puts industry before the safety and well being of a very poor and under-served community.”
“For years, El Paso’s trash ended up in Sunland Park, to the tune of nearly 90% of the waste in the landfill,” explained Douglas Meiklejohn, NMELC attorney and Executive Director.
“However, in August 2010, the City of El Paso adopted an ordinance that will keep El Paso’s waste in El Paso. This means an end to the waste stream from El Paso Sunland Park; it also means that the landfill application’s representation that almost all of its waste will come from El Paso is not accurate.”
Out of State Waste
The New Mexico Solid Waste Management Regulations require that a permit disclose the origin of the waste to be disposed of in the landfill. The landfill application indicates that almost 90% of the waste for the landfill will come from the city of El Paso.
The motion filed by the NMELC stated that this is not accurate because the City of El Paso has enacted a flow control ordinance, which mandates that, beginning in September, all waste that is generated or found in El Paso is to be disposed of in facilities operated by the City of El Paso. The motion also stated that when the permit is approved, the landfill will be ineligible to receive waste from El Paso for nine of the 10 years for which a permit is sought.
For that reason, the motion said, the application was not accurate and should be denied.
In his order today, Secretary Martin asserted that it would not be proper to deny the application for the landfill permit because the El Paso flow control ordinance is not yet in effect.
“That assertion ignores the reality that the flow control ordinance will be in effect for nine of the 10 years that the permit covers,” said Meiklejohn. “For that reason, the application for the permit is not in compliance with the Solid Waste Management Regulations.”
Meiklejohn said he will confer with Mr. Ardovino and Ms. Vargas to determine how to proceed.