Editor's Note: This article originally stated that the Santolina community currently houses 90,000 people without an adequate water supply. This corrected version states that Santolina is a proposed development that aims to house 90,000 people without an adequate water supply. The Daily Lobo apologizes for any confusion.
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center held their second annual Beer with a Barrister event Wednesday night at Monks’ Corner Taproom to promote their organization as well as thank their supporters.
Nonprofit NMELC was founded 30 years ago by Executive Director Douglas Meiklejohn, who defines it as a space that “provides free legal services for protection of communities and the environment in New Mexico.”
In the Albuquerque area, the group is working with Kirtland Air Force Base to clean up their fuel spill in a timely and efficient manner. They are also working on a case involving a proposed development on the West Mesa, called Santolina, which aims to house 90,000 people without an adequate water supply.
The group also focuses on reducing air pollution in the Albuquerque South Valley, at Los Alamos Laboratories and in other locations statewide.
The law center’s mission is “to bring environmental justice to communities and be a voice for people that are not represented in the legal system,” said Director of Philanthropy Elizabeth Lee.
Staff Attorney Eric Jantz said the organization works with communities in Albuquerque to ensure the city government does its job in protecting people’s health.
Air quality is measured by taking average samples throughout Bernalillo County, which creates a numerical average of good air quality, Jantz said. “But not everybody gets that great average air quality.”
Some neighborhoods, like San Jose, Barelas and the South Valley, have a lot of industry development that produces a lot of pollution, he said. However, there are also communities on the other end of the spectrum, like the Sandia Heights and the Four Hills area, where there is no industry development.
Most of the communities where the air quality is lower are predominantly Latino and low-income, and the NMELC helps those communities with legal proceedings.
“These people have their own voice,” Jantz said. “But we help them negotiate some of the legal aspects, so they can go to court or an administrative proceeding to maximize their effectiveness. It’s more of a partnership.”
In regards to this partnership, Meiklejohn said, “It’s important, because most of the people we represent cannot afford to hire a private lawyer.”
NMELC hoped the event at Monks’ Corner helped educate members of the community about the issues going on in Albuquerque. Beer with a Barrister is meant to “engage the people in Albuquerque and assert their presence within the community,” Meiklejohn said.
“We want to let people in Albuquerque know that we’re here, and that we are a resource for neighborhoods and communities in Albuquerque and that we will continue to do work,” Jantz said. “We’re always looking for volunteers to help us with technical issues, hydrology, air pollution, anything like that.”
Lee also encourages “anyone interested environmental justice work and in protecting the air and water to go to our website and look at the case work we do at nmelc.org.”
The Law Center will also be holding an event on Oct. 7 in Santa Fe to celebrate their 30th anniversary.
Kelly Urvanejo is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Kelly_Urvanejo.