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.

Bernalillo County residents are sick and tired of getting the short end of the stick when it comes to businesses affecting their air quality. They want to close the loopholes polluters use and make the health of the community paramount.

The Mountain View Coalition and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center have teamed up to present the Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board with a proposed Health Environment & Equity Impacts Regulation on December 14, that would make it virtually impossible for businesses to squeak by the Board if they produce any air pollution. 

“We are hopeful that the AQCB will do the right thing for our communities and ensure that this vital regulation be adopted in a timely and just manner.” Virginia Necochea, Executive Director, New Mexico Environmental Law Center 

The regulation would make the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department (EHD) and the Air Quality Control Board address the disparate impacts of air pollution on the health and quality of life of Bernalillo County residents.

A Disparate Impact Screening must be performed by the applicant and the permit application denied if any one of nine health indicators in the area already exceeds the county average for these nine identified Health Indicators: 1) adult asthma rate, 2) child asthma rate, 3) the percentage of adults over age 65, 4) the percentage of children under age 18, 5) emergency department admission rate, 6) cancer rate or cancer mortality rate, 7) cardiovascular disease incidence or mortality rate, 8) autoimmune disease incidence or mortality rate, and 9) overall mortality rate.

If the permit application is not denied based on the nine health indicators, but the facility is to be located in an already overburdened community, the permit applicant must provide a Health, Environment and Equity Impacts Analysis and Report (HEE Report) to EHD. If this HEE Report indicates that the proposed facility will violate certain conditions identified in the rule, the permit application will be denied. If the permit application is not denied by EHD, the EHD may issue the permit, subject to mitigation measures informed by the Health, Equity and Environment Report and the community.

The new rule also allows for community testimony to influence whether EHD will deny a permit application and may be used to inform any mitigation measures. Community-based participatory research would be given the same weight as the technical expertise and testimony provided by the applicant and EHD.

EHD would deny a permit application if, based on the Health, Environment and Equity Impacts Report, the facility is shown to: 1) violate air quality standards, 2) result in the total emission of ten tons per year of Hazardous Air Pollutants in the overburdened community, or 3) the applicant has a facility that is not in compliance with existing permit conditions or is currently or in the last ten years has violated any environmental law of any state. 

If EHD issues a permit to an applicant for a facility located in an overburdened community, EHD must also establish a Resident Advisory Committee, made up of self-selected residents from the community. This committee will meet twice per year with EHD to provide feedback on the facility’s compliance with permit conditions.

“Residents here suffer from disproportionate levels of health problems including cancer, asthma, cardio-vascular and other respiratory diseases related to excessive cumulative emissions from Industry, truck traffic exhaust and others.” —Nora Garcia, President, Mountain View Neighborhood Association 

Community members can comment on the proposed draft Health, Environment & Equity Impacts Regulation at the hybrid ABQ-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board meeting on Wednesday, December 14, 2022 at 5:30pm. Air Board Hybrid Zoom meeting link. Meeting ID: 828 5629 7862, Passcode: 325277. Physical location: Plaza del Sol, 600 2nd Street NW. Access the meeting by phone at 346-248-7799.