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Neighborhoods Seek Help Dealing with Industrial Pollution

Superfund sites in Mountain View.Photo credit: Julio Dominguez.
Superfund sites in Mountain View.
Photo credit: Julio Dominguez.
March 14, 2013

SANTA FE, N.M. - When Steven Abeyta and his wife moved from Colorado back to their family home in San Jose, they found that a number of large industrial plants had become part of the neighborhood. While adjusting to the change from the farming community that had been there before, Abeyta became concerned.

A health-impact assessment of the area caused him to consider the effects of living among so much industrial discharge. That's when he went to Santa Fe to testify on behalf of HB 458, the Consolidated Review Act.

"If you've got a company underneath the guidelines to emit into the air and another company across the street is just right under that particular guideline," he said, "the government will not look at the cumulative impacts of all the companies combined."

The bill was tabled, Abeyta said, because legislators believed its language did not respond to his concerns. Efforts continue to address the issue.

Eric Jantz, a staff attorney at New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said HB 458 was designed to make a case for regulators to listen to the issues of area residents and be required to consider alternatives and mitigation measures to newly proposed operations in communities similar to San Jose and Mountain View.

The bill is not radical, Jantz said, but opposition remains.

" 'It's going to cost jobs. It's going to break the New Mexico budget.' There's absolutely no basis for those hypothetical situations," he said. "Montana, they have a very similar type law. And they've had it for 30 years."

Abeyta's method of keeping the effort alive is to work with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and other communities in the state, including Mesquite and Kirtland in the Four Corners area, to collect data to establish the impact of pollution on these communities.

It's called an "Air Bucket Brigade" campaign, and Abeyta explained how it works.

"It's a contraption that would be able to capture ambient air and particulate matter," he said. "We'll put it in a bag that's shipped to a laboratory where it's analyzed for pollutants."

Some people have suggested a different solution, Abeyta said, but it isn't one he likes.

"Many people have told us that we should move. 'Sell your home and move away,' " he said. "Wouldn't the new owner be affected by what we're running away from? What about the people in our community? Do we run away from them? If we run, are we going to be running the rest of our life, when another company comes into the new neighborhood that we're in?"

Jantz considers HB 458 a public health bill. This is the second time it has been introduced, he said, adding that he is prepared to bring it up again. The bill's text is online at nmlegis.gov.


Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM