Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-Santa Fe) was on campus today as Santa Fe Community College announced an Environmental Protection Agency grant to train students to clean New Mexico's brownfields.


The college intends to use the grant, worth $300,000 over two years, to certify 60 students in brownfield cleanups. Brownfields are designated by the EPA as land "complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant." New Mexico has a fair amount of them, according to Jeanne-Marie Crockett, a training coordinator with the community college.

Crockett expects the college will use up the grant money before the two years are up.

While New Mexico has plenty of brownfields, it's lagging in the amount of trained workforce it has to treat such land. In illustrating this, Luján recalls talking with officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory about environmental cleanupa year and a half ago.

"We asked, 'Have you worked with anyone with Santa Fe Community College or the northern colleges around New Mexico,' and the answer was 'No,'" he told people gathered at the community college today.

Instead, the lab hired companies from out of state to do the cleanup, Luján says. He says the grant gives the state an opportunity to stop this trend and allow local businesses to save money on training staff.

"There's no reason that all our colleges, community colleges and universities shouldn't be partnering up with business," Luján told the crowd. "This grant represents that."

SFCC's grant is the result of a nationwide contest, which 22 colleges from 21 different states also won. SFCC's recently-opened Sustainable Technologies Center, which houses a plethora of green technologies, played a role. Its technologies were enough to draw a visit from Nancy Sutley, President Obama's chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, last month.

Nationwide, green jobs have grown at a snail pace over the years. A recent report from the Washington D.C. think tank the Brookings Institution says green jobs represent just 2 percent of nationwide employment.

Still, Luján is convinced that "the benefits are endless." He faces hurdles to convince House Republicans, who have repeatedly targeted EPA funding this year, of the same thing.

"We just need a commitment from my colleagues that are choosing to eliminate these programs with their budget cuts," he tells SFR. "We should be investing in these areas."