ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A lively night at City Council where more than a hundred people showed up both for and against a contentious proposal over who should make decisions about the air we breathe.
“This is a time when we need stricter regulations, we have to protect our elderly populations and our children,” one person said.
“I fear if we don’t vote yes to this tonight, we’ll see economic decline within ten years in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County,” another person said.
Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis wants to revamp the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board. “We want some diversity on the board, some professional diversity, we want this board to be more open, more transparent, this is about good government,” Lewis said in an interview last week.
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Right now, the appointed board has final say over air quality rules for businesses and developments. Lewis’s proposal would give City Council veto power. It would also mandate that the board include an Engineer, a Physician, a College or University expert, and a member of the Private Manufacturing Industry.
“I believe these bills are balancing the community’s need for economic development with a desire for environmental justice,” one person said at City Council.
However, the legislation has come with a lot of pushback. “I think Councilor Lewis is using the guise of efficiency and uniformity to mislead the public into thinking this is good government and not the dismantling of an important and independent oversight agency tasked with protecting local air quality,” said Lauren Meiklejohn, the former chair of the Air Quality Control Board, said.
Meiklejohn, whose opinions are her own, is deeply concerned. She and others believe this is a last-ditch effort to stop a proposed regulation from being heard by the current board in December which would add an extra step in the permitting process. “It’s disappointing but it’s not surprising,” she said. “To cast doubt on our governing agencies is very concerning and very anti-democratic.”
But others, including business leaders, agree with Lewis and feel the board needs oversight. “He’s actually reinforcing a better policy program, better statutes that are in place, better ways to evaluate the aggregate effects of the contaminants, and then being able to make great judgments based on what’s best for the community,” said Jim Garcia, the Executive Director of the Associated Contractors of New Mexico, said.
Garcia stands behind Lewis’s legislation and said the proposal before the current board would hamper projects like the construction and maintenance of roadways. “This process is going to affect us in a big way, for us to be able to have to go back to the NMDOT and state that we’re not able to finish a road in a timely manner because of permitting or lack of permitting is bad,” he said. “This is going to affect hospitals, this is going to affect hotels, there’s many industries that economic impacts are going to affect negatively.”
The Bernalillo County Commission weighed in asking the city council to defer the measure and said they had been left out of the decisions.