Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

street art of child with school backpack and oxygen mask

,

Santa Fe’s Southside neighborhood is a closely populated area of predominantly low-income residents and immigrant people of color. The community coalition feels it is being set up for increased air pollution due to renovations planned for a local asphalt plant. A public hearing for the Santa Fe Southside Environmental Justice Coalition’s appeal to New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) decision approval of an air pollution permit for Associated Asphalt & Materials is scheduled on February 23 at 9am on WebEx. 

The Associated Asphalt & Materials, LLC (AAM) permit would consolidate two hot-mix asphalt batch plants it operates on 599 just north of Airport Road. After consolidation, the batch plants could operate up to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year. 

The Coalition states that community members who tried to comment in Spanish at last year’s hearing had their civil rights violated by NMED when the Department failed to provide meaningful interpretation services to community members. 

Miguel Acosta, Co-director of Earth Care, has been working closely with low-income residents who would be impacted by the asphalt plant expansion. “We were told on the first day of the hearing, in the first moments of public participation that community health concerns, cumulative impacts and disproportionate, racialized risks of illness or death were not being considered and would not be heard,” said Acosta. “He [the Hearing Officer] went even further and discouraged people from speaking if they were there to express those concerns. It was outrageous behavior by somebody acting on behalf of the NMED and Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration.” 

The Coalition argues that the air dispersion modeling approved by NMED does not accurately demonstrate the expected pollution coming from AAM. They say it relied on out-of-date and incomplete data and inappropriately allows for excedances of National Ambient Air Quality Standards of six air pollutants known to negatively impact human health. Fine particulate matter expected to be emitted from the AAM plant is known to exacerbate conditions like asthma, COPD and other lung conditions. 

Miriam Luevano lives in a mobile home park near the asphalt operations with her husband and two children, with one on the way. They can’t afford to move. “We are all exposed all day to the pollution from the existing plants, including my unborn child. We have no choice but to breathe whatever is in the air. It’s not fair and we will fight it,” Luevano said. 

Kate Noble, the Santa Fe School Board member representing El Camino Real Academy said, “It’s absolutely unacceptable to compromise people’s health with questionable bureaucracy and processes…. this needs all to slow down, and our school, community and neighbors deserve to be heard.”  

Written comments must be submitted by Feb. 23 to include reference number EIB-21-48 to: Environmental Improvement Board Administrator, New Mexico Environment Department, Harold Runnels Building, P.O. Box 5469, Santa Fe, NM 87502, or via email to the Board’s Administrator at public.facilitation@state.nm.us.