A bosque near the Valle de Oro Trail near Albuquerque. Credit: Photo courtesy National Trails Office (U.S. National Park Service)

The Mountain View Coalition has finally, after years fighting a permit that was issued for another hot mix asphalt batch plant in the South Valley, got the long end of the stick. New Mexico Terminal Services (NMTS) set to operate the plant in the Mountain View neighborhood got the short end of the stick this time.

By unanimous vote, the Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board approved a joint motion to dismiss a request for a hearing on the merits for an air quality permit issued in October 2020 for NMTS to operate the asphalt plant.

The Mountain View Coalition, composed of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association, Mountain View Community Action, and Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge united to appeal the issuance of the air pollution permit to NMTS by the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department (EHD).

The Coalition and attorneys from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) worked together to stop yet another polluting industry from setting up shop in a community primarily of low-income people of color that has been designated by the EPA as an “environmental justice” community.

“This has been a long and difficult fight for this community. This is an important first step toward a more just and equitable development model. No community should be Bernalillo County’s dumping ground,” said Eric Jantz, senior staff attorney at New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said.

Standing United Against Pollution

The asphalt plant was to be located at 9615 Broadway SE, just past the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, and north of Isleta Pueblo and I-25. Community members organized for more than four years in an effort to prevent additional air pollution in the neighborhood and to protect community health.

No stone was left unturned as they worked to create a growing momentum of community members and allies fighting to protect the health and environment of Mountain View in the South Valley. The Coalition’s petition had more than 1,000 signatures demanding elected officials reverse the permit that the Environmental Health Department (EHD) granted NMTS for the asphalt plant. Coalition members did postcard mail outs and door-to-door canvassing of all residents in Mountain View and the neighboring Pueblo of Isleta.

Friends of Valle de Oro created a StoryMap detailing the dozens of polluting industries that already existed in the historic agricultural community. They made dozens of phone calls, hand-delivered letters to Mayor Keller and held discussions with representatives from Isleta Pueblo. It paid off.

Mountain View Coalition members and their attorneys are now celebrating their victory in the battle to address the long history of cumulative impacts, environmental injustice, and environmental racism in their community.

“For more than 24 years we have opposed the City policies of permitting dirty industries with ever increasing air, soil and water pollution in Mountain View. We thank ALL who signed our petition and to many of the unsung heroes who continue to fight the environmental racism before us. Ya BASTA con la contaminación y las pólizas racistas.” Lauro Silva, President, Mountain View Neighborhood Association, said.

Silva explained many residents have suffered respiratory illnesses, blue baby syndrome, and other health impacts, as well as a 10- to 22-year shorter life expectancy as compared to other areas. They have Superfund sites, brownfields, auto wrecking yards, asphalt plants, chemical companies, a sewer plant, and huge fires at metal recycling yards.

“I am a longtime resident of the Mountain View community. I’ve lived here since 1994 and ever since, the community and neighborhood has always fought dirty industry coming into the area,” David Barber, President of Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, said.

According to university studies on asphalt plants they produce 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. 

South Valley’s Never-Ending Pollution

There are three EPA identified Superfund sites in the South Valley: a creosote-soaking site for the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe Railroad; a petroleum hydrocarbon plume from Chevron, the ATA Pipeline, and Texaco tank farms and 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.

Kirtland 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 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.

“After years of the Mountain View community committing our time and resources …. the EHD has finally realized it is their duty to revoke this permit. We are gratified that the Air Board and EHD have recognized their responsibilities,” Marla Painter, President of Mountain View Community Action, said.

The Coalition is advocating for a law that requires an assessment of the impacts of concentrating industry in any one community. The Coalition, supported by NMELC recently teamed up to present the Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board with a proposed Health Environment & Equity Impacts Regulation in December 2022, that would make it virtually impossible for businesses to squeak by the Board if they produce any air pollution. 

“We are dedicated to working toward a pollution-free environment concerning Land Use Zoning, Air Quality, and Water Quality and where there is environmental Justice for all that live in the Mountain View Community.” Nora Garcia, Secretary of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association, said.

The Coalition’s 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. If the New Mexico Green Amendment passes the Legislature this session and the people of New Mexicans have the right to vote on an amendment for environmental civil rights in the state’s constitution, the Coalition may have an additional strong argument for their regulation.

Mountain View Coalition Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MountainViewCoalition

Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado, and other publications. She has taught and  practiced alternative healing methods for over thirty-five years.