New Mexico cracks down on environmental violations with new task force

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A new multi-agency task force is taking an environmental battle out of the wilderness and into a courtroom.

There’s a long list of laws aimed at protecting the environment in New Mexico. Everything from air and water quality to nuclear waste is regulated, and when those rules are broken, it can put hundreds if not thousands of New Mexicans at risk.

But, state leaders say the new “Environmental Crimes Task Force” is giving those laws some sharper teeth.

“You can’t say you have the nation’s best ozone rules for oil and gas unless you’re able to enforce them,” said James Kenny secretary of New Mexico’s Environment Department. 

The laws are in the books, but Kenney says enforcing them has not always been a priority.

“We’re very transparent about it and the results aren’t good. We’re seeing large-scale noncompliance in many of our regulatory programs,” said Kenney. 

The state’s new Environmental Crimes Task Force is working to change that.

Nearly a dozen federal, state and tribal agencies are coming together to investigate violations of environmental laws and prosecute them. 

“We haven’t had the resources in the Environment Department to go investigate, technical staff to go investigate, and then legal staff to hold polluters accountable – that’s changing,” Kenney said. 

While certain crimes like littering are against the law, Kenney says the task force is focused on more harmful violations that could impact entire communities.

“Oil and gas is one that’s of great interest,” said Kenney. “But we’re also looking at water, we’re also looking at illegal dumping.”

And the task force is also taking a closer look at cases where environmental violations may have gone unnoticed.

“There was recently a chop shop in Albuquerque that made news that was busted in the South Valley,” Kenney said. 

APD officers uncovered 12 stolen cars and several engines from a property earlier this month. 

The suspect is facing auto theft and tampering with evidence charges, but Kenney says there could be even more crimes to investigate.

“They’re probably not collecting the refrigerants properly from the air conditioner, they’re probably not disposing of used oil properly. They’re probably not disposing of other materials that are hazardous or solid waste properly,” Kenney said. 

Kenney says violations like that do leave an impact, and it’s time to lay down the law.

“We deserve better, and that’s what this task force is going to do is hold people accountable,” he said. 

Kenney says they’re already looking to bring more agencies into the task force, including ones from several Pueblos.

Visit New Mexico’s Environmental Department’s website if you want to report tips or complaints, or the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website.