NMED Approves 10-Year Permit for Camino Real Landfill (w/Document)

By Tracy Dingmann

Word comes from Santa Fe today that the New Mexico Environment Department has approved a 10-year permit for the Camino Real landfill in Sunland Park, N.M.

The decision by the Martinez Administration caps a decades-long struggle by the people of Sunland Park against the landfill, which takes in most of its trash from Mexico and the nearby Texas city of El Paso. People who live in the community say they don’t want the landfill in their midst and fear it has adversely affected their health. For more background on the landfill, go here.

Clearly New Mexico will have more information on the story, including comments from some of those involved, later today.

Here is a copy of the decision made today by Environment Secretary designee F. David Martin.

MLK Today, Legislature Tomorrow

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

On the eve of the 2011 legislative session in Santa Fe, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday gives us a moment of pause, a moment to reflect as New Mexicans about what we hope to see come out of the two-month session, and how we will individually and collectively affect the process. Using some thoughts from Dr. King’s vast repertoire of proverbial wisdom, I hope that you will find inspiration today to fuel your service and advocacy tomorrow and beyond.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – MLK

I often hear friends and colleagues lament that “politics is just not for me,” in the same way they might discuss foods and movies they dislike. The important distinction is that our political system does affect all of us. It can protect our natural resources and sacred places, or it can do just the opposite. It will determine over the next sixty days whether the budgets of our schools and social programs are slashed, or whether we instead decide to go after un-tapped revenue from corporations to solve our state’s deficit.

These are not small, insignificant decisions. We will all live with the effects, good or bad, from decisions over the next two months. Get involved! If you are one of those likely to shrug off politics, my first, simple suggestions would be to check out the very user-friendly NM legislative website where you find your legislators, look up specific bills, and even watch proceedings from the Roundhouse and then to go up to Santa Fe and see the legislative process for yourself. Those who do see quickly that it is not the scary world they had imagined, and that in fact, all of us can make more of an impact than we think.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. ” – MLK

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Citizens Coalition Sues Governor In NM Supreme Court Over Printing Of New Dairy Rule

By Tracy Dingmann

Late today (Jan. 13) came news of the second suit filed in New Mexico Supreme Court against Gov. Susana Martinez over her move to halt printing of a regulation designed to protect New Mexicans from groundwater contamination.

What follows is the word, straight from the Citizens Coalition, a local group made up of Caballo Concerned Citizens, Citizens For Dairy Reform, Rio Valle Concerned Citizens, the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, Food And Water Watch and Amigos Bravos:

SANTA FE, N.M. – The Citizens Coalition filed suit today in New Mexico Supreme Court against the State Governor, Susana Martinez, the Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, and the New Mexico State Records Administrator, in response to the move to halt printing of the adopted dairy regulation in the State Register. Papers were served on the above offices this afternoon.

The Citizens Coalition, represented by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), petitioned the court for a writ of mandamus to compel the Governor and NMED Secretary, F. David Martin, to comply with existing law, and to compel Sandra Jaramillo of the State Records Center to codify and publish the dairy regulation in the State Register.

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EIB Decides on State Carbon Cap; Helena Chemical Air Permit

By Tracy Dingmann

Two long-awaited decisions emerged from today’s meeting of the state Environmental Improvement Board in Santa Fe.

By a 4 to 1 vote, the board voted to adopt a petition by New Energy Economy that will create a new state carbon pollution reduction program that will lead the rest of the nation in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and create living-wage jobs for New Mexicans.

The new state pollution limit will require the state’s largest polluters to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels starting in 2013, an effective date amended by the EIB.

“This new policy makes New Mexico the nation’s leader in carbon pollution reduction while at the same time stimulating our economy and creating jobs for New Mexico families and communities,” said NEE senior policy adviser Mariel Nanasi. “The board understands that the same technologies that can reduce carbon pollution can also make New Mexico more competitive in the clean energy economy, which means more long-term, well-paying jobs for New Mexicans.”

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Decision on Sunland Park Landfill Imminent

By Tracy Dingmann

What’s going on these days in Sunland Park, N.M., home to the controversial Camino Real landfill/environmental park?

Last time we wrote, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry was scheduled to decide by Nov. 10 whether to grant the sprawling landfill a 10-year extension.

But earlier this month Curry announced that he would give himself up through Dec. 1 to issue a decision (that’s tomorrow.)

The Camino Real landfill (its owners call it an “environmental park”) sits near one of the largest aquifers in the Southwest and takes in 90 percent of its trash from Mexican maquiladoras and the nearby city of El Paso.

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Thanksgiving Wishes From Clearly New Mexico

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

To our wonderful Clearly New Mexico community, we want to thank you for your support and energy. Far beyond this site, it is the work we are dedicated to, making our state healthier, safer, more equitable, and more democratic that is worth giving thanks for this holiday. Whether your efforts are improving our schools, ethical reforms in our political systems, or speaking on behalf of the most vulnerable populations that are too often forgotten, thank you!

As you can see from the stories on our site, it is exactly those efforts that inspire the writers of Clearly New Mexico. Often, these are the stories not deemed “newsworthy” elsewhere – youth working to beautify their communities, conversations about keeping the internet accessible to all, and Indigenous efforts to protect water are not the things we see much of in the media, but which have made it to our site in just the last week!

A few thoughts as you enjoy your time with family and friends this holiday, given in the spirit of Clearly New Mexico’s community:

* First, a medical fact – yes, turkey does have an amino acid called trypophan which causes sleepiness. So, get those important political, philosophical, and spiritual conversations out of the way before the turkey-induced daze!. And before you ask, NO, this does not give you lisence the next day to blame something you say to the in-laws on the trypophan!

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A Report From The National Congress of American Indians, Meeting This Week in Albuquerque

A Clearly Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

Albuquerque – How can we advance the rights of the world’s Indigenous Nations through treaties?

This was the central question Monday evening as Indigenous leaders from Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. gathered at a special session of the 67th Annual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Central to the discussion was the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). More than simply the sum of its 46 Articles that affirm the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous Nations, this document sets an important precedent by recognizing these groups at the level of the United Nations.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada were the only countries not to sign the declaration initially. As of last week, when Canada added their signature, the U.S. is now the only country who has not signed.
“We expect President Obama to sign this declaration on behalf of the United States in the near future, and it is important that there is not a group of non-Indian people telling us how it is going to be implemented,” said Frank Ettawageshik, Executive Director of the United Tribes of Michigan.

Indeed, attention at the session was more focused on steps needed once the U.S. signs, with sentiment hopeful that Obama will reverse the Bush Administration’s position on the document. At the NCAI meeting, a resolution being proposed calls upon the president to create a commission of Indigenous leaders to implement the UNDRIP once it is signed by the U.S.

Andrea Carmen from the Yaqui Nation (Mexico), and the Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council reminded those gathered the long road toward United Nations recognition. In the 1920s, various Indigenous leaders arrived at the UN’s predecessor, The League of Nations, only to be turned away.

“Finally, in 1977 we were invited to Geneva for the UN Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, but it took another three decades before we had the support in place to talk seriously about the rights of Indigenous peoples,” she noted.

Even as the UNDRIP was being drafted, there was tension around the voice given to the Indigenous voices involved, with the Indigenous delegation walking out of negotiations in 1996 and then staging a hunger strike in 2004 to show their disproval with the process.

Carmen added, “Remember that our rights, the rights of our Nations, are not set by treaties or declarations. Our rights can be affirmed or violated, but they are not something that can be given or taken away.”

To some at the gathering, the talk of treaties left doubts. An elder from the Tanana Tribal Council (Alaska), Curtis Sommer, voiced his concerns.

“To me, I don’t hear us addressing colonialism…we need our countries to be held accountable for the enslavement, murdering, and genocide, and I am not sure that begging for a small slice of what we are owed through treaties is the way to get this accomplished.”

Honor Indigenous Day; Help Kewa Pueblo

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

Today, as our country officially celebrates the “discovery” of a land already inhabited, I think it is a great time for New Mexicans to reflect on, and honor the past and present struggles for control of our land.

Let me start with a quick story: This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be a part of the volunteer crew organized by the Kewa (formerly Santo Domingo) Pueblo to begin to repair the significant damage done to the Tribe’s traditional houses by the October 2nd hailstorm. Many homes have been deemed “un-inhabitable” and Kewa officials estimate that 90% of the homes in the old village have suffered damage to their roofs.

The damage there is significant, but even more heartbreaking was the reality that as of Sunday afternoon, over a week from the storm, very little attention had been given to the situation from beyond the Pueblo. Tribal leaders had yet to hear from our state government in their request to have a state of emergency declared.

As we shoveled mold-ridden clothes from a house, where the water line rose to my knees (giving me eerie flashbacks to post-Katrina Louisiana), a fellow volunteer remarked, “I think this situation will serve as a good lesson for the Tribe.”


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Praise for KUNM Series on West Mesa Murders

By Tracy Dingmann

If you missed KUNM-FM’s three part series on the West Mesa murders last week, you can still listen to it at the station’s website, KUNM.org.

Reporter Elaine Baumgartel at the public radio station took an in-depth look at the murders of 11 women whose bodies were found in a mass grave on the city’s West Side more than a year and a half ago.

The first segment, which ran Sept. 15, focused on the pain of the families and the Albuquerque Police Department’s fruitless search for suspects.

The second segment, which ran Sept. 16, included interviews with journalists who covered and advanced the story, including local freelance writer Laura Paskus, former Tribune writers Maggie Shepard and Joline Gutierrez Krueger and Journal reporter Jeff Proctor.

And the third segment, which ran Sept. 17, focused on the difficulties faced by women like the West Mesa victims and the resources available to help them.

The Center for Civic Policy funded in-depth research by Paskus into the murders and the social circumstances that led up to them, how the story was covered in the media and what policy changes might possibly result.

We look forward to reading and hearing more from Paskus in the coming months about the lasting effects of the murders and what good, if any, might come from a closer examination of the conditions that led to them.

Don’t Call It A Landfill: The Story Of The Camino Real Environmental Park

By Tracy Dingmann

Does a community have the right to reject a landfill full of out-of-state waste that citizens have said over and over again they don’t want?

The right of concerned citizens to determine what kind of projects affect their environment is a concept that has come to define the issue known as “environmental justice.”

What does that term mean? In part, it means that communities with the least resources to fight are the ones that end up with the most objectionable projects. That tends not to happen in communities whose citizens have money, education and political power and connections – and can afford to wage fights that drag on for years.

The Camino Real Landfill

That’s the issue going on right now with the Camino Real Landfill in Sunland Park, N.M. After a protracted legal battle, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry is scheduled to decide on a 10-year renewal for the plant by Sept. 16.

The Camino Real Landfill (actually, that’s its old name – the owners, Waste Connections Inc., now call it the Camino Real Environmental Center) sits near the one of the largest aquifers in the Southwest. According to the landfill’s website, Waste Connections Inc. is the third largest privately held waste hauler in the country.

The landfill takes in 90 percent of its trash from Mexican maquiladoras and from the city of El Paso, which is located directly across the Texas state border from Sunland Park.

Longtime Community Opposition

For decades, a significant portion of the people who live in Sunland Park have spoken out against the landfill, including the Sunland Park Grassroots Environmental Group and many others in the community.

(For some great history about the landfill and its relationship with the community, check out this great, albeit ancient, book chapter from 1993.)

More recently, local environmental groups, including the Sierra Club have joined the citizens in calling for the state to conduct a comprehensive health assessment before issuing a decision on the renewal.

Recent Developments

Local citizens have also been frustrated by the city of Sunland Park’s refusal to take a strong stand against the landfill. In fact, residents seeking to have the item put on the official city council agenda say they’ve been rebuffed and rejected.
And they say they want to know more details about a recent deal the city made with the landfill that allows the city to dump its waste there at a reduced cost.

Adding to the drama is the fact that, on Aug. 10 the city of El Paso opted not to renew a longtime contract with the company to dump its waste at the landfill – wiping out about 75 percent of the landfill’s current business. Instead, the city of El Paso will handle its own waste within its own borders, under a concept known as flow control.

The Same Old Story?

It’s worth noting that Sunland Park fits the profile of so many areas that historically get dumped on: The village of about 13,000 people has a high poverty rate – about 40 percent of residents live under the poverty line – and is 96.44 percent Hispanic. You can check out the rest of the demographics here.

There are so many players battling it out here – it’s almost like a soap opera. Except it’s not at all entertaining – not for the people who live in Sunland Park.

But things might be looking up for them. During a special meeting on Friday (Sept. 10), the Sunland Park city council passed a resolution commending the city of El Paso for adopting flow control and asking Curry not to approve a ten-year extension for the landfill.

Will the Sunland Park city council’s vote against the landfill make any difference? Will Curry grant approval for the landfill, and if so, where will it get its waste from now?

Keep an eye on this blog for more news about what happens next.