This past May, the University’s Board of Regents filed as a party in the ongoing petition to amend the New Mexico administrative code to stop new air-polluting projects in communities that already live with environmental hazards via a Health Environment Equity Impact regulation.
The Mountain View Coalition alongside the New Mexico Environmental Law Center filed the petition back in November. This October, the Air Board will vote on the regulation. In May, the Board of Regents entered as a party.
Loretta Martinez, General Counsel for the University of New Mexico, wrote that the University has proposed changes to the regulation. Martinez did not specify what changes the University wanted, but said that UNM believed it could impact “current and future operations at the hospital and on campus.”
“(UNM) intends to continue to seek final regulations that balance our values of health equity, sustainability, continuity of health and research operations and responsible future development of the South Campus, TIDD and UNM’s surrounding neighborhoods,” Martinez wrote.
The South Campus Tax Increment Development District “TIDD” is a publicly funded, 312-anchor project the University has begun working on with the City to add shopping and entertainment near Lobo Village on South Campus.
The area the TIDD is planned for ranks in the 90th percentile for both Air Toxics Cancer Risk and Air Toxics Respiratory HI, according to the EPA Environmental Justice Indexes, and is close to the South Valley where the Mountain View Community is located.
Feleecia Guillen, UNM Leaders for Environmental Action and Foresight Director of Communications, said the Regents reaction to the regulation was disappointing and confusing.
“I would like to think that the University recognizes that air pollution disproportionately affects low-income and communities of color. Going against this regulation is going against everything (they stand for) as a Hispanic-Serving Institution,” Guillen said. “We just want transparency. We want the Board of Regents to be transparent with us and to let us know what they’re planning and what they’re doing.”
The Mountain View community has faced the realities of polluting industries in their neighborhoods for years after the zoning of the land was changed from acultural to industrial in the 1960s. Marla Painter, President of Mountain View Community Action, said they have been working towards a solution around air quality regulations for the past 14 years.
“It just became a storm that some of us who live in the neighborhood felt like we needed to finally address,” Painter said.
The polluting industries in the community have led to respiratory illness and high rates of cancer amongst those living there who are predominantly people of color. Painter said the community has been left by the wayside in terms of State regulation and took the matter into their own hands with the HEEI regulation.
“It started out as inherently unjust, and it’s continued because there has really been no way to challenge the placement of polluting facilities one after the another, right next to one another, and without having to be accountable to what the ongoing consequences are the people’s health and well-being and welfare,” Painter said.
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In light of ever-present environmental safety hazards like the recycling plant fire earlier this month, the issue of air quality in communities of color, Guillen said, has become even more pressing.
“Recently with the fire at the recycling plant, the HEEI regulation has become more than a topic of interest. The effects of the air polluting industry overwhelmingly impact low-income communities and communities of color who are already experiencing the health impacts of airport air pollution disproportionately,” Guillen said.
Maddie Pukite is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @maddogpukite