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A view of the Albuquerque skyline on Sunday, Aug. 20.

City Council abolishes & significantly alters Air Quality Control Board

Editors note 1/25/24: This article has since been updated to reflect the specificity between what legislation is an ordinance and a resolution.  

The Albuquerque City Council approved an ordinance and resolution on Nov. 8 to abolish the current Albuquerque-Bernalillo Air Quality Control Board and recreate it with substantial changes.

The Board’s purpose is to maintain air quality standards put forth by the Air Quality Control Act by adopting, amending or repealing regulations with City Council approval, the Ordinance sponsored by Councilor Dan Lewis, states.

The ordinance changed the Board to now be made up of seven Mayor-appointed members that consist of: 

  • A registered professional licensed engineer with experience in air pollution control.
  • A physician licensed in New Mexico with experience in the health effects of air contaminants.
  • A person from a higher learning institution with experience training in air pollution evaluation and control.
  • A person from a private industry with training and experience in compliance with air pollution reduction.

“The criteria that we put in place for the different board members to have has to do with diversity,” Lewis said.

Joseph Galewsky, a University of New Mexico professor and current Board member, spoke about the former build-up of the Board where four members were appointed by the City and three by the county.

“The Board does have significant expertise. I am an atmospheric scientist with more than 20 years of experience. Other members are experts in public health,” Galewsky said. “We also have several attorneys on the Board with expertise in this area.”

Public comment prior to the vote on the legislation brought up concerns about a lack of accountability with the new Board the ordinance creates. In total, 108 people spoke before the council.

Maslyn Locke, the Senior Environmental Justice Law Attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said it goes against the Board’s mission as a regulating entity to have industry-affiliated members questioning the legality of the ordinance.

The Air Quality Control Act states that no members of the board can receive a significant portion of their income from issues related to the Act or the Federal Clean Air Act.

“Regulated industry really doesn’t do well regulating themself,” Locke said.

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If a Board member has a conflict of interest with a vote, the Board can can vote to disqualify them from participating, according to the Ordinance.

Supporters of the ordinance were primarily local business owners and business entity representatives, including Terri Cole, President and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and Sherman McCorkle, chairman of the Sandia Science and Technology Park Development Corporation.

“It stands to reason then that doing things to deter economic growth is unwise and unhelpful. If passed tonight, this ordinance would reign in a rogue Board,” Cole said.

Several representatives from the Mountain View Coalition – the group that introduced the Health, Environment and Equity Impacts rule to the Board in Nov. 2022 to halt new air-polluting projects in communities that already live with environmental hazards – brought up the rule again.

According to the Ordinance, any regulations brought to the Board, like the HEEI rule, would then need to be presented to the City Council for their approval, or rejected with a two-thirds vote. The Council will then state the length of time a regulation is to be in effect for.

Lewis said the HEEI rule could deter future industries from settling in the state and bringing jobs.

The proposed HEEI rule is still awaiting its hearing. 

The argument that the Board slows economic growth was criticized by Eric Jantz – Legal Director of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center.

“There have been decades of studies that demonstrate that the costs of bad air quality – like we have at Bernalillo county – are significantly higher than the cost of compliance of even the most strict air quality regulations,” Jantz said.

Nate Bernard is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo

Editors Note 11/13/23: Correction- the HEEI rule was first introduced in Nov. of 2022, not 2023.  

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