A proposal to fund cleanups and cleanup jobs in a state with the highest concentration of toxic wastewater and air pollution is drawing fierce opposition from environmentalists and lawmakers who fear it could cost the state more than $3.6 billion over the next 10 years.
The proposed statewide plan by the New Mexico Environmental Protection Agency would require polluters to pay for cleaning up the toxic wastewater they dump in the state, but critics say the plan would also force the state to fund pollution control projects that could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of extra dollars.
The EPA has already paid out more than a half-billion dollars in Clean Water Act payments to communities impacted by the spill, which caused more than 400 deaths and sickened thousands more.
The EPA’s $3,716 million cost estimate, which does not include a new tax to fund the cleanup, is based on the amount of pollution emitted from the spill.
Environmentalists are also concerned that the EPA would not be able to fund any new pollution control measures that could affect people living in areas impacted by pollution, such as in rural areas.
“The plan would require the state government to spend billions of dollars over the course of the next decade on an already overfunded and overwhelmed EPA,” said Lori Smith, president of the New Mexican Citizens for Clean Water.
“That’s not what we should be doing to protect the health and safety of our citizens.”
Smith said the plan is a direct attack on clean water protections and the environment.
“This plan would gut environmental protection and clean water protection protections, and it would be done in a way that is designed to benefit polluters,” she said.
“If the EPA has an issue with this plan, then they can make their own choice.
But the people of New Mexico have the power to stop this plan.”
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who announced the plan, said she would not sign onto any bill that would defund the Clean Water Protection Act.
“We have a plan that puts us on a path to protect our water,” Martinez said in a statement to the AP.
The plan has been supported by environmental groups, but they are concerned it could be used as a cover for further funding of pollution control and waste disposal.
The proposal would create a fund to pay cleanup and cleanup jobs, and would allow for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to waive environmental review for any proposed pollution control project.
The state would also pay for the cost of enforcement activities, including the state-level cleanup, the cleanup of the spill site and the cleanup and pollution control of the wastewater and the air pollution that would be released from it.
The bill also calls for an increase in the number of public meetings that can be held to allow public input on the plan.
“The Clean Water Amendment to the New New Mexico Clean Water Restoration Act will help New Mexicans stay safe, clean and healthy by providing an avenue to protect people, communities and resources,” Martinez told reporters in a press conference.
“We are taking steps to protect New Mexico’s clean water from future spills, including by requiring public participation in the public hearing process for any new Clean Water Regulations,” the EPA said in an emailed statement to AP.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Martinez said that the governor’s administration “has taken steps to implement a plan to protect public health and ensure the state meets its obligation under the Clean Air Act to protect human health and the ozone layer.”
New Mexican Governor Susanna Martinez, left, speaks with New Mexico Governor Ricardo Martinez, center, and Attorney General Steve Lonegan at the state capitol building in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., May 1, 2021.
Martinez has long been critical of the EPA, and she has been an outspoken critic of the agency’s efforts to regulate pollutants and the Clean Power Plan.
She has repeatedly called the Clean Pollution Act a “political attack on the citizens of New New Mexicans.”