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New Mexico Wastewatch - Changing How New Mexico Deals with Landfills

landfillA meeting was called of citizen groups and individuals in early 2002 as a result of shared problems and concerns regarding the approval of several solid waste and hazardous waste landfills by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) in 2001 and 2002. These landfill sites include a wave of new operations designed to attract solid and hazardous waste from outside the state. These sites are:

  • Rhino Solid and Special Waste Landfill, permitted near Chaparral;
  • Triassic Park Hazardous Waste Landfill, permitted east of Roswell;
  • Northeast New Mexico Regional Solid and Special Waste Landfill located near Wagon Mound;
  • Camino Real Solid Waste Landfill located in Sunland Park; and
  • Stericycle Medical Waste Facility located in central Albuquerque.

The community groups near these landfills faced numerous difficulties with the NMED approval process. The 2002 group meeting resulted in the creation of New Mexico Wastewatch.

New Mexico Wastewatch is working on issues related to the NMED approval process, to insure that existing legal authorities are fully utilized to:

  • Protect public health, safety and welfare from hazards at waste sites, and
  • Eliminate the injustice that results from the disproportionate impacts of waste sites on New Mexico communities composed predominately of low-income households and people of color

As a result, the group drafted a Community and Environmental Health Policy initiative. This initiative was designed to correct some of the glaring weaknesses in the state's environmental and health program as they affect communities near waste sites.

A letter was drafted to New Mexico's new governor, Bill Richardson, to introduce Wastewatch and it's policy initiative. As a result, there was a meeting between Wastewatch coalition members and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry and Deputy Secretary Derrith Watchman-Moore on January 30, 2003. At the end of the meeting, there was a commitment from the Secretary to continue a dialogue with Wastewatch, with a follow-up meeting to discuss the specifics identified in the proposed Policy initiative.

The draft policy initiative is found below. For more information contact Paul Robinson, (505) 262-1862, or any of the Wastewatch participants below.

Colonias Development Council (CDC)
121 Wyatt Dr. Suite 5
Las Cruces, NM 88001
(505) 647-2744
Fax: (505) 647-1462

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS)
107 Cienega
Santa Fe, NM 87501
(505) 986-1973
Fax: (505) 986-0997
Email: ccns@nuclearactive.org

New Mexico Environmental Law Center
1405 Luisa St., Ste. 5
Santa Fe, NM 87505
(505) 989-9022
Fax: (505) 989-3769
Email: nmelc@nmelc.org

SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP)
211 10th St. SW
Albuquerque, NM 87102-2919
(505) 247-8832
Fax: (505) 247-9972
Email: swop@swop.net

Water Information Network
PO Box 4524
Albuquerque, NM 87106
(505) 255-4072
Fax:(505) 262-1864

Community and Environmental Health Policy

Whereas State Law now provides:

  1. The Hazardous Waste Act at 74-4-4.A states that "The Environmental Improvement Board shall adopt rules for the management of hazardous waste as may be necessary to protect public health and the environment";
  2. The Solid Waste Act at 74-9-2 states that "the purpose of the Solid Waste Act is to enhance the beauty and quality of the environment; conserve, recover and recycle resources, and protect the public health, safety, and welfare", and at 74-9-8 A, the Environmental Improvement Board shall adopt regulations to "implement, administer, and enforce a program for the cost-effective and environmentally safe siting, construction, operation, maintenance, closure and post-closure care of solid waste facilities, including requirements that assure that the relative interests of the applicant, other owners of property likely to be affected, and the general public will be considered prior to the issuance of a permit for a solid waste facility";
  3. The Water Quality Act at 74-6-4.C states that the Water Quality Control Commission "shall adopt water quality standards …[that]…shall at a minimum protect the public health and welfare…"; and
  4. The Air Quality Act at 74-2-5.A states: "The Environmental Improvement Board or the local board shall prevent or abate air pollution".
  5. Neither the Environmental Improvement Board or the New Mexico Environment Department have established regulations or guidelines to implement these responsibilities effectively.

Therefore, the Environmental Improvement Board and the New Mexico Environment Department are directed to and shall develop and implement policies to enforce these authorities including, but not limited to:

  1. All natural persons, regardless of race, income, national origin or English language proficiency, have the right of protection from environmental pollution and have equal protection and meaningful involvement with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and to the equitable distribution of environmental benefits;
  2. All natural persons have a strong voice in environmental decision-making regardless of race, income, national origin or English language proficiency and are allowed to participate fully and meaningfully during public hearings and public meetings, and that testimony by the public as it relates to the public's health, safety, and social welfare will be formally documented, considered and weighed during the decision-making process;
  3. The environmental review of new or expanding sources of air emissions, ground water discharges, surface water discharges, or waste facilities will be enhanced by requiring the following: 1) an environmental and public health assessment, to include an analysis of multiple air and water impacts; 2) an analysis of the environmental burdens faced by the community impacted when compared with other communities of higher income or fewer minority residents; 3) data on baseline public health conditions and an assessment of potential exposures, based on the above-mentioned environmental and public health assessment; 4) analysis of technological, site planning, and operational alternatives to reduce impacts; 5) proposed on-site and off-site mitigation measures to reduce multiple impacts and increase environmental benefits; 6) the demographic composition of the community as it pertains to minority or low-income status; 7) an assessment of the capability of emergency responders and community residents to respond to an imminent public health threat within the community impacted; and 8) a requirement that the facility under consideration be located five miles beyond the borders of any community, or to any further extent necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare;
  4. All existing facilities shall comply with all environmental rules and regulations and that the State commit adequate resources to enforcement and compliance management;
  5. An opportunity for economic growth exists and that the granting of financial resources used to help clean-up existing contaminated sites shall not be inequitably distributed because of race, income, national income, or English language proficiency;
  6. Public participation will be enhanced by the use of alternative media outlets such as community or ethnic newspapers, the use of alternative information repositories, and by the translation of materials or interpretation services at all public meetings within communities where a primary language other than English is typically used in the home;
  7. Public notices regarding new or expanding sources of air emissions, ground water discharges, surface water discharges, or waste facilities be located in a prominent area of the newspaper, and that public notification occur in a minimum of three newspapers of public distribution within the impacted community; and the creation of a citizen review committee, comprised of community members, to review and approve of new or expanding sources of air emissions, ground water discharges, surface water discharges, or waste facilities.

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"The term "equity" was a government creation pushed onto the EJ movement by the Environmental Protection Agency. SWOP doesn't want "equal opportunity pollution." We want to reshape the whole table. We want a fundamental reordering of our priorities and commitments, and that starts with corporate and government accountability to the community. We want justice."
--ColorLines, Vol. 3, No. 2
Southwest Organizing Project "Organizing in the 21st Century"

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