Dozens weigh in on air quality board changes during city council meeting

Dozens weigh in on Air Quality Board changes during city council meeting

The big debate Wednesday night is over air quality, more specifically, who regulates air quality in the metro.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Newly-elected city councilors won’t get to work until January, but it appears the current Albuquerque city councilors will be working well into the night. 

The big debate Wednesday night is over air quality, more specifically, who regulates air quality in the metro.

City councilor Dan Lewis wants to significantly rework how the Albuquerque and Bernalillo counties’ Air Quality Control Board operates, that includes adding new requirements for who gets a seat at the table.

Right now, the board includes seven members – four of which are chosen by Albuquerque city leaders.

Lewis’ proposal would now require those four spots each be filled by a licensed engineer, a physician, someone representing a college or university, and someone from a private industry. All the appointees are supposed to have some type of background in air pollution as well.

Lewis’ proposal would force the board to host open, public meetings, and would limit its regulatory powers.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Lewis says he believes the changes will make the board more accountable.

“This is about good governance. This is about checks and balances. This is about being open and transparent. Having a diversity on this board full of professionals,” said Lewis. 

Not everyone agrees with him though. More than 180 people signed up to speak during Wednesday’s meeting, including real estate developers, industry professionals, everyday citizens, and a state lawmaker. It was clear, there’s a big divide on this proposal.

Many speakers also criticized the timing of these proposals. The current Air Quality Control Board has a hearing next month over a proposed rule to strengthen requirements for businesses, or other groups looking to obtain air quality permits.

Lewis’ second proposal would block the current board from enacting any new regulations until February.

“These changes are not instilling trust among your constituents, and if you pass these changes at this time, I’m concerned that you’re not only damaging the Air Quality Board, but you’re damaging your credibility as a council,” said Lewis.  

“With the city trying to abolish the existing Air Quality Control Board, without county input and by removing the community voice, I find it a frightening message to send to our youth about how our government functions,” said state Rep. Andrés Romero.

The Bernalillo County commissioner passed their own resolution against these proposed changes last week, and gave the county attorney permission to take action if the city council approves them Wednesday night.

The city council has several other items on the agenda.

Councilors are set to vote on a change to the Safe Outdoor Spaces program, which would make it easier for organizations to apply to manage sanctioned homeless encampments.

There’s also a proposal to make all city buses free to ride for the foreseeable future. This is after a Zero Fare Pilot Project last year which showed promising results.