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.

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EIB Decision on Statewide Carbon Cap Coming Today

By Tracy Dingmann

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board is expected to make its final decision sometime today (Dec. 6) on a proposal to reduce statewide carbon emissions.

If approved, the carbon emission rules would apply only to the state’s largest polluters, including power plants, refineries and natural gas processing hubs.

Approval of the proposal would kick-start an economic engine to bring jobs to New Mexico and to showcase the state as a national leader in the area of halting or slowing harmful climate change.

The proposal to reduce carbon pollution is the result of a petition from New Energy Economy (NEE), a New Mexico-based nonprofit organization, and 17 other organizations representing communities, businesses and rural interests.

“Our proposal is about unleashing investment that will drive innovation and create jobs for New Mexico families and communities while demonstrating national leadership,” said New Energy Economy president John Fogarty. “Clean energy is the next Industrial Revolution and we’re in a race to see who will lead that revolution. Let’s stake a claim and make New Mexico the beneficiary of the prosperity that’s there for the taking.”

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Camino Real Landfill Decision Delayed Once More

By Tracy Dingmann

Residents of Sunland Park will have to wait until Dec. 30 to find out whether the Camino Real landfill will continue to operate in their midst for another 10 years.

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry’s office announced last week that he will take until Dec. 30 to decide whether to grant a renewed permit for the sprawling New Mexico landfill, which takes in 90 percent of its trash from neighboring El Paso and nearby Mexican maquiladoras.

Residents of the small Southern New Mexico town have said they are concerned about quality of life issues and possible health concerns posed by the landfill’s proximity to a large underground aquifer used for drinking water.

An original decision on a ten-year permit for the landfill was supposed to be made earlier this year.

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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In Other News: NM’s Environmental Victory on Nov. 2

By Tracy Dingmann

On Nov. 2, an important environmental victory occurred that was almost – but not quite – eclipsed by Election Day news in New Mexico.

Perhaps those of you who worry about the specter of manmade climate change heard that the state Environmental Improvement Board met and approved a regional cap and trade program to cut carbon emissions in New Mexico.

The decision puts New Mexico in the forefront of the necessary movement to control carbon emissions, which scientists agree are the major cause of global warming.

In an interview with the New Mexico Business Weekly, Mariel Nanasi of the Santa Fe nonprofit New Energy Economy praised the EIB for approving the most comprehensive greenhouse gas emission reduction rules in the nation.

“It puts New Mexico ahead of the curve,” Nanasi said. “It offers opportunities for clean energy investment and development in the state, which translates into jobs, jobs, jobs.”

From the Business Weekly story on the ruling:

The decision will require about 63 facilities in New Mexico that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually to start cutting emissions by 2 percent per year below 2010 levels, beginning in 2012. The rule applies to stationary sources of emissions, rather than transportation or other sectors. In New Mexico, such stationary facilities mainly include coal- and gas-fired power plants, and oil and gas operations.

The EIB’s decision also authorizes New Mexico’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative, which includes a cap-and-trade program for affected industries. Under that system, businesses that lower emissions faster than required will receive credits that can be sold to industries in other WCI states. The credits could be used to help the slower-moving businesses comply.

Before approving the plan, which was designed and proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department, the board voted unanimously to adopt a cost-containment amendment. Under that clause, if the costs of adopting the rule reach $45 per ton of emissions, the Environment Department must come back to the board with additional cost consideration options, said Sandra Ely, the Department’s energy and environmental coordinator.

The board voted down two other amendments, including one that would have exempted the city of Farmington from the rule. “I’m really impressed with the thoughtfulness of the board–its consideration of industry’s concerns and the cost issues involved,” Ely said. “Each and every board member understood the importance of addressing climate change, but they split on how it should actually be addressed.”

In December, the EIB will meet to consider a carbon cap proposal brought forth by New Energy Economy. That proposal asks the state to implement a statewide cap – you can read more about it here.

It’s not known what the EIB will decide on the NEE proposal. But it’s clear that yesterday’s decision places New Mexico in a much-needed role as a leader in not just climate change awareness – but also in taking real action on climate change.

State Permit Is All That’s Needed Now

By Tracy Dingmann

The decades-long legal battle over is effectively over – and now uranium mining in Indian Country is just a couple of state permits away from happening.

Last week the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a crucial ruling in a landmark case that clears the way for Hydro Resources to seek permit renewals from the New Mexico Environment Department for mining on land the company owns near Churchrock.

Specifically, the court ruled that the 160-acre parcel of land was NOT on what’s considered Indian land, meaning that the company must get permission from the state Environment Department – not the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The state had already approved permits for the company to mine there back in 1989 – but the process was stopped by lawsuits filed by the Navajo Nation, which said the parcel of land in question was on Indian land and therefore under federal jurisdiction.

The Najavo Nation and other involved parties said they opposed it because of the possibility that the in situ leaching method of mining the company plans to employ to extract uranium could contaminate precious groundwater for thousands of people.

The Navajo Nation banned uranium mining of all kinds in 2005. Contamination from decades-old abandoned mines and uranium tailings are still a huge problem there and are believed to be the cause of many health problems among people living there.

As of Thursday, Hydro Resources Inc. had not yet applied for any permit renewal, New Mexico Environment Department spokeswoman Marissa Stone Bardino said in a phone interview.

If and when the company’s permitting request does come in, the department anticipates that those in the community who oppose the company’s plan to mine the land will ask for a public hearing on it, Bardino said.

Eric Jantz, an attorney with the Environmental Law Center, which represents Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining and other parties involved in the lawsuit, said his clients have talked about the ruling but haven’t decided what to do about it yet.
New Mexico Environmental Law Center

Jantz said he expects one of the many parties who opposes uranium mining will likely ask for hearing if and when a permit is requested and the scope of the request is known.

Stay tuned to Clearly New Mexico for updates.

News About Kirtland Jet Fuel Leak Is Spreading

A few significant things have happened since we last wrote about the decades-old Kirtland Air Force jet fuel leak that’s threatening to contaminate a major municipal water well in the city of Albuquerque that serves neighborhoods near the base and some parts of Ridgecrest.

New Mexico Environment Department officials estimate the underground spill of toxic jet fuel could be as much as 8 million gallons. Jet fuel is a known human carcinogen.

On May 10, the state Environment Department denied the Air Force’s request for 45 extra days to submit a report detailing its plans for dealing with the spill.

As John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal reported, the state will require the Air Force to submit a report on July 7 showing how far the contamination has spread. Two other reports will be due on June 22.

“Urgent action needs to be taken to address this threat to Albuquerque’s drinking water supply,” James Bearzi of the New Mexico Environment Department wrote in response to the Air Force request for a 45-day extension. The state department has complained about the Air Force’s pattern of frequently missed deadlines in the past.

On May 20, the Air Force held a meeting with residents of the area near the spill to discuss its plans for cleaning up the spill and controlling its spread. Air Force commander Col. Rob Maness told KOAT-TV that the Air Force promises to do more to stop the spread of fuel to municipal wells. The Air Force has already spent $10 million on the leak.

And on May 12, New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman voiced his support for holding the Air Force responsible for cleaning up the spill and expressed concern about the possibility of it contaminating Albuquerque’s underground water resources.

“Clearly the Air Force is responsible for cleaning up that spill, and I will support whatever is determined to be the right level of resources to get that done,” Bingaman told a New Mexico reporter in an interview last week. The interview can be found on Bingaman’s Senate web site.

The senior senator from New Mexico is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He took the question about the Kirtland spill amidst a number of questions from New Mexico reporters about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Kirtland jet fuel spill is now firmly on the radar screen of all the entities needed to make a real difference. Let’s hope all the increased media attention and public concern inspires the state to show even more muscle in forcing the Air Force to take responsibility for the leak and keep it from reaching our drinking water.

Kirtland Jet Fuel Spill Shows Need For Regulation (UPDATED)

A massive jet fuel leak is creeping through the water table beneath an Albuquerque neighborhood toward municipal water wells near Kirtland Air Force Base.

According to a May 4 page one story by Albuquerque Journal science writer John Fleck, the state Environment Department calls the 30-or-more-year-old spill “a significant threat to human health and the environment, particularly to well water in urban neighborhoods adjacent to Kirtland Air Force Base.”

Fleck, an experienced and respected reporter not prone to exaggeration, notes that the volume of fuel is estimated at 8 million gallons.

“Those are Exxon Valdez-scale numbers,” he writes.

More from Fleck’s story:

There appears to be no danger to the people living on top of the spreading contamination. The real danger is to Albuquerque’s water supply. Two municipal water supply wells are in the fuel’s path. If it reaches them, the wells will have to be shut down.

Jet fuel, when ingested by humans, is a known carcinogen.

This threat to our city’s water supply is not some made-up hysteria – this is happening, right now. But I can hear the local anti-regulation crowd now, trying to play it down.

They are the same people who scream about repealing the pit rule that would force oil and gas corporations to pay for liners to prevent toxic material unearthed in the mining process from leaching into the groundwater.

They are the same folks that fight any kind of regulations on the uranium industry in the state. And they are the ones who deny that there is any kind of global climate change caused by the burning of coal-based fuels.

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Battle For Clean Drinking Water Going On Now In Santa Fe

Is clean water important to you? If so, you should be paying attention to what’s happening at the Roundhouse right now.

On April 13, the state Water Quality Control Commission began hearings on a package of rules and regulations regarding disposal of waste generated by the dairy industry.

New Mexico’s dairy industry has never been regulated before – until now, the only rules that were ever applied to the industry had been cobbled together from other areas of oversight.

The initial push for regulations actually came from the state’s dairy industry, which said its members would rather face a clear set of rules than a bunch of haphazard ones.

The Water Quality Control Commission, which is a committee of the New Mexico Environment Department, formulated the regulations after holding a series of meetings with stakeholders – including dairy farmers, landowners and dairy industry leaders – all over the state.

But now the dairy industry and its powerful trade groups are pushing back hard, saying the set of rules that the New Mexico Environment Department is proposing is too restrictive and will cost farmers too much money to implement.

The Groundwater Problem

The regulation proposal would require dairies that are proven polluters to install synthetic liner for their manure lagoons. Many of the polluters use clay liners, which are cheaper but much more permeable. The new regulations would also require dairies that pollute to install groundwater-monitoring wells. The rules would apply only to new dairies and to existing dairies that are proven polluters.

The proposed rules are the first step toward addressing what by any measure has become an appalling situation regarding groundwater contamination in New Mexico.

According to the New Mexico Environment Department, two thirds of dairies operating in New Mexico are contaminating the groundwater near and directly underneath them.

Here’s a little history about dairy in New Mexico: Until the 1990’s, America’s dairy industry had largely been located in California’s Inland and Central Valley. But since then, encroaching regulations and increasingly expensive land drove the industry into states like Idaho and New Mexico, where the land is cheaper and the regulations – especially in New Mexico – were non-existent.

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Update: Statement From Arturo Uribe On Helena Defamation Verdict

By Tracy Dingmann

Last night a Las Cruces jury ruled against Mesquite community activist Arturo Uribe, ordering him to pay Helena Chemical Co. $75,000 for saying his children were made ill by the fertilizer company’s warehouse located across the street from his family home.

This afternoon I got this statement from Arturo Uribe:

“I wasn’t expected to show up. I wasn’t expected to win. This lawsuit was expected to shut me up and intimidate me. That’s what I believe. I believe what I’ve said to be true. I don’t understand the jury’s verdict. They made mistakes and we will appeal. Does this stop me from continuing our organizing and our struggle to make Mesquite a safe place to live? I think not. What it has done is make me wiser and stronger. It has shown me how much support I do have. Will I continue to hold Helena and other polluting industries accountable? You bet. No matter what happened to me, the fact remains that Helena has been fined for numerous violations in which they have paid. Helena is in an abatement plan that will require them to clean up. We went up against a giant corporation with high dollar attorneys, high dollar expert witnesses and expensive paid studies by Helena. They asked for $600,000 the jury came with $1 for actual damages and $75,000 for punitive. It doesn’t make sense. This won’t destroy me. It should send a chill to non profits and organizations that deal with environmental justice and those who defend free speech. But it’s not going to scare me from speaking out when I believe something is wrong. I wasn’t even expected to show up much less win. I will hold my head up high I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Today, the state Environment Department announced that it has issued a new notice of violation to Helena for “failing to correct deficiencies in its groundwater cleanup plan.”

According to reporter Heath Haussamen, writing on NMpolitics.net:

In January 2005 the department required Helena to clean up groundwater contamination at its Mesquite facility because contaminants there exceed state groundwater quality standards for nitrate, sulfate, fluoride, chloride and total dissolved solids, according to a news release from the environment department.

The problem? Helena, according to the release, has failed to submit a required plan to monitor all of those except nitrates to ensure the contamination doesn’t continue.

“We are disappointed in Helena’s refusal to monitor groundwater contaminants underneath its facility that exceed water quality standards,” Environment Department Water and Waste Management Division Director Marcy Leavitt said in the release.

“The company… must immediately address this issue to protect groundwater underneath and around the Helena facility and to meet its responsibilities to the surrounding community,” Leavitt said.

Helena has 30 days to submit the plan. Though it wasn’t announced until today, the notice of violation was issued March 31, the release states.

Helena could face additional fines if it doesn’t comply. The company has already been fined almost half a million dollars in recent years for environmental violations, most relating to air quality.

Earlier today, Helena released a statement saying, in part:

“The truth is Helena is not adversely impacting air quality, drinking water quality or the health of the citizens of Mesquite.”