“Your environment determines how long you live,” said Jaen Ugalde, a Juntos leadership coordinator. Asthma, cancer and diabetes affect the Latino community disproportionately, he said.
The forum was the latest development for residents of the highly industrialized area in the near South Valley, which has pushed back at City of Albuquerque officials’ apparent willingness to approve new pollution-emitting businesses in close proximity to their homes.
Eric Jantz, an attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Ofce of Civil Rights is investigating Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department as well as the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board over allegations the center made in a 2014 lawsuit.
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s suit alleges that the city’s Environmental Health Department violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by failing to consider the cumulative effect of pollution when granting permits, rather than the pollution emitted solely from the permit applicant.
“The city government needs to take into account the cumulative effects when considering permits,” Jantz said. “There is a clear pattern of discriminatory permitting.”
Jantz said more than 90 percent of the Metro area’s polluting industrial sources are located around the railroad corridor of the South Valley, extending into the North Valley.
At the Juntos forum held on Nov. 5, a variety of environmental topics were discussed, including the effect on the Valley of the proposed Santolina project, a residential and mixed-use development plan on the far West Side. Juntos and other organizations oppose Santolina because it threatens to divert water from South Valley farmers.
The Bernalillo County Planning Commission recently delayed the Santolina project’s consideration for 60 days. “It’s a win for the community,” Ugalde said. Members of Juntos saw the delay as a direct result of opposition from activist groups.
Also discussed was an update on the cleanup of groundwater contamination from the enormous Kirtland Air Force Base aviation fuel spill. Kirtland is in the process of cleaning millions of gallons of gasoline in the aquifer that originate from an underground pipeline leak in the 1950s and went undetected until 1999.
Other issues discussed at the forum included an excess of litter; lack of parks, sidewalks and healthy grocery stores; poor road quality; water contamination; and poor air quality leading to respiratory problems. The forum focused on Westgate, the South Valley and the International District because of the percentages of Hispanic, immigrant and low-income families that live in these areas.
Solutions discussed at the forum included education on recycling and respecting the environment, as well as spreading awareness of environmental issues. Neighborhood organizers plan to assess areas and dene deciencies, host house meetings in different neighborhoods and reach out to available resources, such as Parks and Recreation.
Attendees of the forum also signed a petition for implementation of a national policy to reduce carbon pollution from coal-red power plants. The EPA proposed what it calls the Clean Power Plan in June 2014, but the U.S. Supreme Court halted enforcement of the plan last February. Many states have opted to meet requirements of the Clean Power Plan nonetheless.
Juntos will give the Clean Power Plan petition to the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez at the end of November after gathering as many signatures as possible. “Our communities are targeted by pollution. Latinos aren’t considered in government decisions,” Juntos organizer Keily Castro said. “We want Susana to listen to us.”
Many forum attendees said when they leave their neighborhoods to work in other parts of the Metro area, they notice dedeficiencies in their neighborhoods in comparison to others. “I grew up in the South Valley. I didn’t notice the poor environment until I got older,” said Abril Gurrola, a youth organizer for Juntos