MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Problems with Proposed New Landfills in New Mexico

Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) continues to work with New Mexico communities threatened by new solid waste and hazardous waste landfills. Work includes providing technical assistance in support of citizen efforts to prevent two large landfill projects from proceeding - the Triassic Park hazardous waste facility, and the Rhino Environmental Services solid and special wastes landfill.

The proposed Triassic Park hazardous waste facility affects the residents of the western part of Chaves County, NM. Recently organized Conservative Use of Resources and Environment (CURE), in cooperation with other local and statewide groups, mounted a strong community presence at public hearings in October, challenging the understated hydrologic impact, lack of emergency response preparations, and inadequate closure plan and associated financial assurance of the landfill's permit application. Following the public hearing, new documents regarding key aspects of the application, including closure plans and financial assurance - documents that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) failed to include in the formal administrative record of the hearing - came to light. This disclosure may require the hearing be reopened, and could delay the final decision on the application well into the year 2002. SRIC research has focused on review and evaluation of the closure plans and associated financial assurance estimates.

Further south the proposed Rhino Environmental Services solid and special waste landfill, located close to the community of Chaparral, NM, is the focus of organizing activities by the Chaparral Community Health Council, Border Environmental Health Council, and the Archdiocese of Las Cruces. The Rhino landfill public hearing has already occurred, and currently the Chaparral Community Health Council and its associates are cautiously participating in discussions with NMED and Rhino regarding permit conditions for the facility. SRIC staff has supported the community groups by drafting a list of key discussion points, from which the community groups have developed a position statement. The community groups are no less opposed to the landfill than they were before during the public hearing in September. However, they have entered into these discussions to ensure that concerns outside the scope of the New Mexico Solid Waste Regulations, such as community impact, community monitoring, and transportation risks, are addressed directly.

In both cases imported wastes from other states, and/or Mexico, are the primary markets being tapped by the landfill operators. Concern for the potential hazards from these imported wastes, as well as the uncertainly associated with the large volumes of waste from outside the community, has provided strong motivation for the communities regarding these proposals.

New Mexico is a target for new waste disposal sites due to its status as one of the poorest states in the nation and as a state where people of color are in the majority. New Mexico already has enough capacity to management its own wastes for years to come. These two proposals appear to be designed to attract out-of-state waste. Many of the local and statewide organizations involved in these cases are concerned that these are just the first of a wave of new waste disposal proposals. In response, SRIC is working with groups from around the state to protect these and other communities from being targeted as sites for disposal of other people's garbage. Efforts include establishing lines of communication between communities affected by the new waste proposals, and collaborating with environmental law and policy advocates to significantly strengthen New Mexico's solid waste regulations.



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