Credit: Andy Lyman

Deciding not to be team players, five of the nine city councilors approved abolishing the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Board. They did this despite a request by the  Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners to defer the vote as the Commission said it has not been included in the conversation. Councilors also approved these changes even though a couple hundred folks turned out to ask them to pump the brakes on the changes.

Bernalillo County, most of which is Albuquerque, got a D grade for its particle pollution in its recent American Lung Association State of the Air Report and is ranked as a top 25 polluter.

This joint air quality board is, as it sounds, a joint board with Bernalillo County since air knows no geographical boundaries. The board has four appointed representatives from the city and three from the county, and oversees issuing air quality permits that determine which types of businesses can operate in different parts of the combined metropolitan area.

One of the approved bills, sponsored by Councilor Dan Lewis, put a stop to an upcoming Air Quality Board hearing next month to consider issuing a rule on environmental health and equity impacts. Those proposed equity changes include denying permits to facilities in communities that are already bearing a disproportionate burden of air pollution.

Some of those opposing Lewis’ changes say that supporters of the legislation are trying to dodge that health, environment and equity impact rule request that residents of the South Valley and the Mountain View Coalition submitted last November. The hearing was set for December and would have addressed the cumulative impacts of industrial pollution in neighborhoods like those in the Mountain View area.

The Mountain View neighborhood is sandwiched between the Rio Grande and I-25, and stretches from Rio Bravo Boulevard to just shy of Isleta Pueblo. Zoning changes were done in the 1970s with no public input. Since then, the neighborhood has been dumped on with toxic and hazardous contamination from the numerous industrial businesses that set up shop. The 6,000 or so residents are working-class folks and low-income people of color.

One of Lewis’ bills would also replace all the members with ones from specific professions with no community representation. The other approved bill enacts a moratorium to stop future air quality regulation until Feb. 1, 2024. Under this proposal the City Council would have veto power over decisions made by the air board. 

There were eloquent public speakers on both sides. One person called the bills “baseless misrepresentation and a gross misuse of government.” Numerous neighborhood groups, coalitions and residents showed up to oppose these changes saying that those being impacted need to have a voice. One speaker said this was a right-wing political maneuver. A state representative from the South Valley said it is disturbing for the Council to take away the voices of those impacted the most by air quality.

Lewis seemingly carried the bill for the business and industry sector as those are the ones who showed up to bang the drum of doom and argued that overly-stringent air quality regulations will negatively impact all kinds of businesses and industries such as hospitals, roadway construction and even hotels. Lewis even suggested that Kirtland Air Force Base might leave over air quality regualtions. Councilors Lewis, Louie Sanchez, Trudy Jones, Brook Bassan and Renee Grout seemed to be swayed by the businesses in the area and voted in favor of the changes. Councilors Clarissa Peña, Tammy Fiebelkorn, Isaac Benton and Pat Davis voted against the sweeping changes.

Public speaker Steve Mills suggested a reasonable option: “This needs to be taken up with the county and the Legislature and work through it that way.” 

The bills head for Mayor Tim Keller’s desk for him to sign or veto.

Free Bus Rides

Councilors got it together to approve making zero bus fares permanent. But it was not a unanimous decision. 

The city recently did a study to see if bad things were happening on the buses. Crime data came back and showed that crime did not increase on the buses due to the zero bus fare trial. The majority of public speakers were in support of permanently getting rid of fares. Councilors Lewis, Sanchez and Grout voted against making bus rides free for everyone.

Quick Hits

*On a vote of 5-4, councilors shot down an attempt to suspend administrative appeals for safe outdoor spaces applications. These are places where temporary homeless multi-services can be set up to help our homeless residents. This was sponsored in response to the recent injunction barring the removal of homeless residents’ personal property from public spaces. Councilors Lewis, Sanchez, Bassan, Grout and Peña said no to allowing some alternatives to house those living on the streets during the fast approaching winter. 

*The Council approved directing the tax revenue generated by the sale of legal, recreational-use marijuana to a permanent Marijuana Equity and Community Reinvestment Fund for the benefit, health, safety, welfare and quality of life for those who have been negatively impacted by the previous criminalization of said devil’s lettuce. The details will be worked out later with public comment, this just establishes a fund for the tax money generated.