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.

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The South Valley is a clear example of environmental racism and they are fed up with being the dumping ground for decades of a dirty industry that no one else wants. The strength of community organizing paid off for residents there when, spearheaded by the Mountain View Coalition and New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), they were able to convince the ABQ-BernCo Air Quality Control Board (AQCB) to vote unanimously (5-0) to hold a public hearing on their proposed Health, Environment and Equity Impacts Regulation

“Most of the burdens and few of the benefits of economic development are experienced by residents in these overburdened communities,” Eric Jantz, NMELC Senior Staff Attorney told the AQCB.

Historically a rural Latino center of Albuquerque, the South Valley contains some of the most polluted areas of the state. “We hope that the draft impacts regulation will become a new beginning toward a healthier environment and improved quality of life,” President of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association Nora Garcia said. 

Over 120 people attended the in-person and hybrid meeting. Eighteen community members spoke during public comment in favor of the regulation and the need for a public hearing. Written comments in support of the proposed regulation were submitted by community residents and State Senator and Majority Whip Linda Lopez submitted a letter of support that was read aloud. 

 “…this regulation will protect the health of all residents in Bernalillo county from overexposure to pollution and especially frontline communities who have long been disproportionately impacted…. It is crucial that decisions made for allowing any future business venture in our community be vetted with a regulation that will protect our health and well-being,” Lopez’s letter stated.

“Our employees have reported respiratory symptoms of exacerbated persistent coughing, sneezing, runny nose, dry eyes, watery eyes, excessive allergy symptoms and exhaustion since beginning work with our organization. We believe it’s the duty of this board to hold a hearing,” Paul Ross, Farm Manager at Mandy’s Farm told the Board.

Approximately 50 people attended in person and nearly 70 people attended over zoom. Eighteen community members spoke during public comment in favor of the proposed equity impacts regulation and the need for a public hearing. Other community members submitted written comments in support; State Senator Linda Lopez submitted a letter of support which was read aloud during the meeting.

According to the Bernalillo County Environmental Health Department data, thirty-one of polluting industries that are regulated by the EPA are located in the Mountain View neighborhood. The asphalt plant located there produces toxic air pollutants that may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems and skin irritation. Air pollutant emissions could range from 3 to 3.5 km aerial distance.

Kirkland Air Force Base, Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and other military installations like South Valley Works, a former nuclear engine research facility now owned by General Electric, dumped toxic waste around the Latino and African-American residential neighborhoods of Mountain View and John Marshall. The groundwater south of these neighborhoods is so contaminated that it will never be potable again, which led to the largest environmental lawsuit in New Mexico history.

If that’s not enough, there are three EPA identified Superfund sites in the South Valley. One, a petroleum hydrocarbon plume from Chevron, the ATA Pipeline, and Texaco tank farms. Another is a creosote-soaking site for the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe Railroad. The last, the Pronto PCB dump site, where a Texas company dumped waste oil containing PCBs, a carcinogenic chemical, into an unlined pit between 1980 and 1982. Mountain View has the largest underground nitrate plume in the state, which contaminated sixty-three wells and affected the health of residents. 

“This is the furthest we have ever gotten on having the Air Board or the City address our concerns and demands for a healthier environment in Bernalillo County, particularly in vulnerable neighborhoods,” said Marla Painter of Mountain View Community Action. 

Next steps for the proposed regulation include scheduling of the hearing by the AQCB. Here is a link to the handout of FAQs about the draft regulation: https://nmelc.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Health-Environment-and-Equity-Impacts-Reg-1-Pager.pdf