Air Quality Board moving forward with hearings on controversial proposal
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board is still planning to host hearings on a controversial set of proposed air pollution regulations, despite recent efforts to halt the board’s regulatory abilities.
The Albuquerque City Council approved two proposals in early November to significantly rework the board’s operations and its membership, as well as block the current board from enacting new regulations.
Mayor Tim Keller vetoed both ordinances last week.
On Monday, the board is expected to discuss a sweeping set of proposed air pollution regulations known as the Health Environment and Equity Impact Regulations (HEEI). The proposed rules were developed by members of the Mountain View neighborhood in Albuquerque’s South Valley – an area located near several industrial developments.
Neighborhood officials say the new rules are designed to prevent new industrial developments from setting up shop near neighborhoods and communities already impacted by air pollution.
If approved, the new regulations would require the city’s Environmental Health Department to deny air quality permits to proposed facilities if health impact studies show potentially negative effects.
“The regulation basically requests that industrial uses take a look at the impact of their industrial uses on the health and well-being of the neighbors that they’re going to develop next to,” said Marla Painter, president of Mountain View Community Action. “It doesn’t pertain to existing development, only pertains to new development.”
Painter added the new regulations would only affect proposed development’s near “overburdened communities.”
Dozens of people spoke out during November’s city council meeting on both sides of the issue.
Several industrial leaders criticized the proposed regulations, saying they would severely limit business opportunities in the metro. UNM leaders and officials with the city’s Environmental Health Dept. – who would enforce the new regulations – have also expressed concerns.
Many supporters spoke out against the two proposals – both from councilor Dan Lewis – with some suspecting they were attempts to block the air quality board from discussing the HEEI regulations.
“The passage of this ordinance and resolution serve only to prevent the airport from exercising its legal authority to hold a hearing,” said one woman.
During the debate, Lewis appeared focused on increasing transparency among the air quality board; however, he did address the potential impact of the proposed air pollution regulations on Albuquerque’s economy.
“We’re putting a major new jobs potential in the city at incredible risk of them being able to follow through and build and do what they need to do to be able to create those jobs,” Lewis said during the meeting.
The city council approved both proposals on a 5-4 vote.
In Mayor Keller’s veto memo, he said his office already had concerns with the proposed ordinances and believes they would not properly address the issues presented during the meeting.
The mayor added: “We should not deter the Board’s rule-making authority before they have a chance to perform their duties. The ordinance puts the ‘cart before the horse’ for those worried about actions the Board ‘may’ take in the future.”
The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners approved its own resolution against the city council’s ordinances in late October. Commissioners also gave the county attorney permission to take action following the city council’s approval.
The Air Quality Control Board’s hearings over the proposed HEEI regulations is set to begin Monday.