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Rescind, Revise, Repeal: Read This if You Care About Clean Water, Air and Land in New Mexico

 

By Tracy Dingmann

Back in February, we did an Inspection of Public Records Request of Gov. Susana Martinez’s office that revealed documents showing that her “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” is packed with big-industry lobbyists who carry a distinctly anti-regulatory agenda.

 

Included in the documents was a “mid-point report” from the task force that contained a number of startling recommendations for the Governor regarding drastic rollbacks of environmental and construction rules.

The task force is due to issue a full report of recommendations to the Governor on April 1.

But just recently, our request yielded even more documents from another state agency that went into even greater detail about what the group wants the Governor to do about some very specific and crucial regulations.

Rescind, Revise, Repeal

According to a chart released by the New Mexico Department of Economic Development (which facilitates the task force), the task force will recommend that Gov. Martinez “rescind” “revise” or “repeal” nearly 50 rules and regulations administered through the New Mexico Environment Department.

The 47 targeted rules include regulations on everything from dairy waste to air and surface water quality standards to safety conditions of hotel pools and spas. Other rules targeted include regulations regarding home and commercial food processing, hazardous waste management, petroleum storage tank maintenance, radiation control, and others.

Many of the regulations recommended for revision or elimination are mandated by the Federal Clean Air Act and/or by New Mexico’s State Implementation Plan (SIP), which was designed to protect New Mexicans from dangerous contamination of air, water and land.

It is not clear whether all of the rules are “pending” or “proposed” – many of them appear to be rules that have been on New Mexico’s books for some time.

That’s confusing, because when Gov. Martinez created the task force with an Executive Order minutes after taking office on Jan. 1, she said she would ask the task force to review “pending” or “proposed” rules for their impact on the state’s small business climate.

However, when asked about it recently, Gov. Martinez said she is committed to reviewing all state regulations.

Here’s a story last week from the Associated Press:

Gov. Susana Martinez has vowed to continue reviewing all state regulations, however, with an eye toward improving the business climate in New Mexico and creating jobs.

Martinez said at a news conference after the end of the session Saturday that she’s looking at laws passed by the Legislature as well as those approved by various state boards, commissions and executive agencies.

“Are they strangling the development of jobs here in New Mexico? Are they scientifically based? Are there good reasons for those regulations to be in place?” she asked.

Eliminating the Dairy Wastewater Rules; Revising Federal Air Standards

Among the rules targeted for complete elimination are the dairy wastewater rules passed in December by the state Water Quality Control Commission. Those rules were imposed after a series of statewide hearings that involved numerous stakeholders in the process.

This particular set of rules is not required by federal law. But New Mexico has one of the highest concentrations of large dairy farms, and contaminants from leaking wastewater lagoons at some of those farms is known to have contaminated large amounts of ground water in the state.

From an April 2010 story by the Associated Press:

The state Environment Department — which says groundwater pollution exists at more than 65 percent of New Mexico’s dairies — has proposed new regulations on the industry to protect groundwater.

“We have extensive contamination from dairies across the state, especially in shallow groundwater areas,” such as the Rio Grande and Pecos river valleys, said Bill Olson, chief of the Environment Department’s Ground Water Quality Bureau.


Another target of the task force is the state’s ambient air standards, which ARE required federally through New Mexico’s State Implementation Plan. The task force calls for the state to revise them.

Memo To Industry: You Can’t Just Wish Regulations Away

Attorney Bruce Frederick of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center said he is curious about the group’s criteria for suggesting rules be eliminated or revised, particularly when it comes to the federally-required air quality standards.

“It would be interesting to see their rationale for doing that,” said Frederick. “I doubt they understand or have even looked at those regulations. I don’t think there are any air experts on the task force. They want to rescind things that are in the state SIP and required by the Federal Clear Air Act.”

When it comes to the task force, it appears that industry has been given free rein to try to wish away all the rules they don’t like, he said.

“These things have nothing to do with public health. They are all being recommended for purely economic reasons,” he said.

The question of whether industries such as oil and gas, mining and big dairy will get their way is an entirely different one, Frederick said.

These rules were created with public input and scientific evidence, and they aren’t going away without more input and evidence, he said.

“All of these things will require public hearings and petitions and notice and such. We’ll see what the evidence is for this – and it won’t be enough to say ‘Industry doesn’t like it.’ Hopefully rumor and gossip won’t be good enough either.”

“If they do all of this, it will cost the state thousands and thousands of dollars to do all the notices and the hearings. It will take years. There are multiple statutes and multiple regulations involved.”

We think it will be interesting to see which recommendations survive the task force’s initial rounds and make it into the full report due on April 1.

And we sure hope we don’t have to file another Inspection of Public Records Act request to get our hands on that.



3 thoughts on “Rescind, Revise, Repeal: Read This if You Care About Clean Water, Air and Land in New Mexico

  1. Tracy: Great story as usual. One comment: the Executive Order did include reviewing not only “pending and proposed” rules, but also all existing rules. Here is the language:

    “6. Each department and agency shall also review all of its existing rules and regulations with a view to enhancing the purpose of this Task Force, and no later than January 31, 2011, identify to the Secretary of Economic Development each rule or regulation, the rescinding or revision of which could significantly enhance the business environment in New Mexico through economic development and employment growth.”

    Of course, we have no idea what “significantly enhance” means and how that vague term balances against harm to the environment and public health and costs to the state of cleaning up that harm.

  2. Tracy, thank you. This is another example of this administration in the quest to favor the industrial masters and pay old campaign debts. Many families in New Mexico struggle to have and protect clean air and water (and quite a few have neither). The industry’s marketing machine is in crisis response mode happily working through the executive office, with either a “really gullible” or a “really dishonest” chief executive. Do these people think the regulations were put in place without extensive input from industry and science and lawyers and citizens of the state? Did the heavens open and pour all this knowledge directly into the fourth floor of the roundhouse?

    Many of us look on with a heightened sense of frustration as we are told, once again, what is in our best interest.

    Countless thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money were used for the development, scientific investigation and proofing, public hearings, legal forums, legislative actions, the list goes on, to develop workable and safe reguations to protect the people and the state; yet this governor would, if she had the authority, nullify it all at the bidding of her masters, simply because “‘Industry doesn’t like it.”

    Thanks be to God and the New Mexico Supreme Court, she doesn’t hold that much authority.

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