Albuquerque air-quality board refuses to hear air-quality rule

By Lora Lucero 04/06/14
On March 12, the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Board ruled against Southwest Organizing Project’s request for a public hearing.
SWOP and community members wanted the board to set a future public hearing to consider a cumulative-impacts rule.
SWOP’s draft rule would have required the air-quality board to consider the pollutants coming from all of the smokestacks in the neighborhood, not just from the applicant’s project. There are at least 84 permitted facilities polluting Albuquerque’s South Valley.
Low-income communities of color often bear a heavier burden from pollution than their more affluent neighbors. After collecting air-quality samples for a year, SWOP and community members learned that San Jose and Mountain View have chlorobenzene levels far above the EPA’s acceptable levels, and more than 10 times what would be expected in urban ambient air.
The business community – Association of Commerce and Industry, Chamber of Commerce, NAIOP and the Central New Mexico Homebuilders Association – convinced six of the seven appointed board members to oppose SWOP’s request.
Surprisingly, a city staff member boldly announced that “air quality doesn’t contribute to health outcomes” and opined that the proposed rule would be burdensome to applicants and “would make demands on” the city department charged with reviewing permit applications.
Garrett Development Corp. and Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, LLC, have big plans for a new community on 53,000 acres west of Albuquerque and also chimed in to oppose SWOP’s request. On March 26, the Bernalillo County Planning Commission will be considering their Santolina Master Plan for approximately 13,700 acres of this new community.

The air quality board’s decision didn’t surprise many in the room who have had experience with the board’s pro-business decision-making in the past. The public interest took a back seat again.