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

Richard Moore on Environmental Justice and the New Mexico Environment Department's Policy Committee

We, (myself and others) have been working on Environmental Justice (EJ) issues since 1969. This has to be said early, as there might be some confusion among the general public and among other environmental groups, organizations, and organizers. During the late 1960s and early 1970s when I was in a youth organization called the Black Berets and working in the north and south valley, one of the issues that kept coming up regularly was the sewage plant. Located in the community of San Jose, off of 2nd Street and across the tracks. Our organization canvassed the neighborhood to find out what were the issues of concern among the neighbors. San Jose is a low-income, Chicano community. The residents didn't define the smell, mosquitoes, rats, or roaches as environmental issues. These issues were defined as community issues that impacted their lives. Back then we did not define issues as environmental justice issues. We viewed problems as social justice issues. This is important to note as we begin discussing the topic of environmental justice today.

We interact with county, city, and state governments, those of us who have been doing organizing in the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. This includes working with our brothers and sisters in the northern and southern parts of New Mexico. This is not a new issue for us, the intentional siting of facilities in low-income, working class, and Chicano communities. We could see that in Albuquerque, in particular South Broadway area, these issues extend out to Native American and African American communities. Even while working with the City Council regarding the wastewater treatment facility, there were people telling us that things were not that bad. We took the Mayor on a tour with residents of San Jose, and he (the Mayor) turned his head a bit due to the smell. Maybe he didn't think that it was so bad because he was sitting in the Mayor's office, and then going home to another community. He hadn't experienced it before, and when he visited San Jose, he saw and experienced something different from his reality. He realized that it just wasn't a bunch of people trying to stir up trouble.

Based on this example, we have been dealing with city, county, and now with state governments. We have seen a lack of action on the part of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the lead state organization on many issues that impacts us from an environmental perspective. But we are moving forward under the administration of Governor Bill Richardson, and his appointment of Ron Curry as Secretary and Derrith Watchman Moore as Deputy Secretary of the NMED.

Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ) had a meeting with both Curry and Watchman Moore, prior to Richardson’s inauguration. We laid down a list of things that we wanted the NMED to take a look at. One was “listening sessions” to be held throughout New Mexico, opening an opportunity for people who were working on these issues from the grassroots, to publicly speak and make recommendations to the department. At the same time, we knew that the recommendations would not only be for the NMED. The issues are multiple, and there are some health related ones. In many cases those health related problems go way back. For example, the Mountainview community, located south of San Jose, has identified blue baby syndrome. There are other communities in the city/county that were identified, as well as throughout the state, and we see multiple sources of impact.

We have many kinds of facilities located in our communities, and many times it is not just one facility. Take the Mountainview community, Albuquerque’s only municipal sewage plant is located there. Mountainview was also housing one of the largest pig farms, poultry farms, and petrochemical facilities. Spills and accidents occurred in this community. The landfill was located in Mountainview, and there was a slaughterhouse there at one time. So you can't just go into a community and say that there is one particular source. Sometimes there is, however, in a lot of cases there isn't. Unfortunately New Mexico houses a lot of undesirable facilities.

The NMED Secretary and Deputy Secretary agreed to hold Listening Sessions. They appointed an Environmental Justice Planning Committee made up of industry consultants, municipal league workers, grassroots representatives, SNEEJ representatives, and others. One of the things that SNEEJ said soon after the Planning Committee was appointed is that we would not participate in the process if there wasn't some kind of commitment by the NMED that something would be done with the recommendations provided by public citizens throughout the state. This brought about the formation of the NMED Environmental Justice (EJ) Policy Committee. This Committee would follow up with the recommendations that stemmed from the listening sessions that were held in Deming, Las Vegas, Acoma, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The turnout from the Listening Sessions was incredible, and many positive recommendations were made. There was some concern on the part of grassroots people about whether or not their recommendations were going to be taken seriously. We could only say that the Secretary made a commitment to make sure that these recommendations would be integrated into the process. This is what really brought about the NMED EJ Policy Committee.

For the Listening Sessions, we asked that people give an example of what the issue of impact was. In the few minutes that were allotted, residents were requested to frame specific issues of impact that could include cultural, health, infrastructure, community impacts, or a combination of all of these. After the problem is described, recommendations can be made from a legislative standpoint that would improve the conditions for people. Other ways to make recommendations included regulation and administrative policy standpoints. Administrative policy can be described as recommended issues that would not require regulation or legislation, but that could be acted upon by the NMED Secretary and Deputy Secretary.

We have to look at EJ in several different ways. From a reactive standpoint, we’ve got some bad situations that need immediate solutions. From a pro-active standpoint, we can attempt to make sure that the causes and or root causes of these environmental consequences from a health perspective be prevented from reoccurring. The problems are both urban and rural. There are some similarities and differences among them. Many times it is not just a singular impact. It could be mining issues, siting of facilities, facilities that are already in the community, agricultural issues, dairy farms, forestry issues-- how do they impact water? There are health-related problems from inside the facilities, as well as impacts to the surrounding community. Economic development overlaps many of the issues mentioned. We have to get better at providing jobs. Our communities have high levels of unemployment. We need to be looking at sustainable industry, the type that isn’t going to come in and damage, destroy, poison, and then pack up and leave, leaving the taxpayers to bear the financial burden’s of cleanup. We need to start looking at more sustainable economic development opportunities, including wind energy and solar energy, which is a different economic agenda for the state of New Mexico.

The NMED EJ Policy Committee consists of six members. There are representatives of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Municipal league, industry consultants, Doug Meikeljohn (New Mexico Environmental Law Center), Pablo Padilla, and Richard Moore (SNEEJ), and chaired by Deputy Secretary of Environment Derrith Watchman Moore. This committee is staffed by NMED. The mission was to review the report from the NMED Planning Committee Listening Sessions. The role of the Policy Committee was to review recommendations and to work with the NMED and its leadership to make sure that recommendations are implemented within the NMED. The Policy Committee selected some issues to move on that were consistent and quick. One was that NMED staff members go through training – bureau chiefs and management team members were identified and asked to participate in the training. This was a pretty intense training. Questions asked were: What is EJ? What is environmental racism? There was a site visit to a community so that impacts can be witnessed first hand. I think the training was important. In some cases, the training opened up the eyes of some of the NMED staff members in that issues that were typically seen only on paper were experienced first hand. Things we see and live with everyday, NMED staff members experienced, seeing how one more industrial facility could have additional destruction in the daily lives of residents. But we learned something important too: staffing is limited due to lack of funds. For example, there are approximately four people in the entire state that handle enforcement issues like reporting violations.

Another outcome of the Policy Committee was the hiring of an EJ Coordinator within the NMED. While that is very important, many of us had concerns. There is a tendency that when an EJ coordinator is hired, that one person becomes the catch-all person for all cases involving air, water, solid waste, zoning, etc. We expressed concern that one person shouldn’t handle all of these wide-ranging issues. Also, who would this person report to? The EJ Coordinator reports to the Secretary, but EJ has to be integrated into all aspects, such as permitting, enforcement, hiring of employees, policies, mandates, pesticides, air, water, soil, everything. Siting of facilities is NOT the only thing that defines EJ.

Legislation is another way towards solving problems. The NMED is going to have to be proactive. Industry came out early on in this process to announce that any EJ legislation relating to business and industry in 2005, would be a top priority to defeat. From an EJ Policy Committee member standpoint, we have differences of opinion among members of the committee – we are not going to agree on everything. But I will say there is a commitment by policy committee members to attempt to operate as much as possible by consensus. I think give and take is needed to develop a process of understanding one another. We may not agree on everything and we all have constituencies to answer to. On our part, let us not concede and give up the EJ principles, but that at times it does require some give and take. I think that the Policy Committee is operating under that premise. We all know each other, we have respect for each other, and whether we agree with each other or not, we will still have that respect under the leadership of Deputy Secretary Derrith Watchman Moore. Her leadership and work-style all adds up for a good EJ Policy Committee.

The Policy Committee looked at the recommendations and asked ourselves whether we can develop a policy. We attempted it, knowing it wasn’t going to be easy. This is something we will be working more on in the future. Another avenue is a Governor’s Executive Order (EO) on EJ. This is not new and is based upon the Executive Order signed by President Clinton in 1994. The committee reviewed what other states have done, looked at the results of the Listening Sessions, and discussed what worked and what didn’t. The cultural, spiritual, and economic impacts for the state of New Mexico were looked at. New Mexico has a unique place in history as a border state that was at one time part of Mexico. There are also indigenous and cultural aspects unique to New Mexico and its history with regards to EJ.

There was agreement among the Policy Committee members, and an EO is moving within the structure of the governor’s office and is being reviewed by other agencies. Hopefully the governor will be signing the EO in the days to come. If you look at the EO that is in the governor’s office, the fair treatment of communities of color and low-income communities is highlighted. Meaningful participation was one topic of discussion. It is well known that at times decisions are made prior to the public hearings. That is not fair treatment and meaningful involvement. It seems the only reason state agencies have public comments is that it is required by law. If the law didn’t exist, then comments probably wouldn’t be heard in the first place. NMED has been viewed as an agency that relates more to industry and county and city governments, much more readily than to the protection and involvement of grassroots people. This EO deals a little about this through oversight. The Governor’s EO makes reference to the EO by the Clinton administration, and the creation of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC). Then, the EPA was the lead agency and looked at the impacts of agencies such as Housing & Urban Development, Department of Energy, Deparment of Defense, Department of Justice, as environmental injustices did not fall under one agency.

The governor’s EO also answers some questions, like: Is NMED into protecting human health and the environment? Empowerment, decision making, dissemination of information, commitment to educate and facility impacts, the EO speaks to that. Does EJ exist? Yes it does. There were people working on EJ issues before it was called EJ. Negative environmental impacts have existed for a long time. There is no debate as to whether or not environmental injustices occur, they do. We must now move forward on some solutions to these problems.

The multiple exposures to environmental hazards is discussed in the EO. While there are many facilities, the majority of the time there is more than one responsible party. There has to be an interagency response to environmental and economic justice, you can’t separate them. The EO speaks to developing an interagency body and EJ task force. We need the participation of all cabinet level departments and other organizations to review these problems. NMED, Departments of Agriculture, Health, Transportation, Labor, Economic Development, Education, and Public Safety – these are agencies that would be impacted by this. We must make sure decisions are not made in isolation.

The Governor’s EO also calls for the translation of languages and materials. There are parts of the state where materials need to be translated into Spanish. Information should be provided in a language that is both appropriate and used by the people in a community. Policy Committee members agree that there is a need for continued involvement with the NMED, especially with regards to the EO. The EO is sitting now in the hands of the Governor and we will have to see if we can move forward.

Richard Moore is a key national leader of the environmental economic justice movement with over 30 years of experience as a community organizer. Of Puerto Rican descent, Richard has resided in New Mexico since 1965. He has worked with a variety of community-based organizations around such issues as welfare rights, police repression, street gang activities, drug abuse, low cost healthcare, child nutrition and the fight against racism, including the struggle for environmental and economic justice. Richard is a founding member of the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) and the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice. Richard is presently the Executive Director of the Southwest Network, a bi-national organization which comprises more than 60 community-based grassroots organizations working in communities of color in six southwestern states and Northern Mexico. Richard's commitment to multi-racial and multi-issue community organizing made him an important member of the planning committee for the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, which took place in October 1991. In recognition of his lifelong work, Richard was the recipient of the 1991 Bannerman Award, the 1995 Albuquerque Human Rights Award, and the 1997 Tides Foundation Jane Bagley Lehman Award for public policy.

Community Partners
and Resources

Table of Contents

“We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us, and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”
– Traditional Teaching of the Haudenosaunee Indians (Iroquois)

“The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. No [one] can think of us without also thinking of this place. We are always joined together.”
– Taos Elder referring to Taos Blue Lake

Donate Now Through Network for Good

All donations are tax-deductible.
Thank you.

SRIC is part of the Stop Forever WIPP Coalition.
The nuclear waste dump is permitted to operate until 2024, but the federal government want to expand the amount and types of waste allowed with NO end date.
We need your help to protect New Mexico!

Donate through Smith's Rewards Program

Southwest Research and Information Center
105 Stanford SE
PO Box 4524
Albuquerque, NM 87196
fax: 505/262-1864

Shop at
and Support
Southwest Research and
Information Center