Southsiders Linda Marianiello and Miguel Acosta have for about two years been trying to prevent Associated Asphalt and Materials from consolidating operations in Santa Fe under a new permit, citing community health concerns, particularly given the company’s history of possible violations.
The New Mexico Environment Department approved Associated Asphalt’s permit last summer to move its operations from both sides of Highway 599 to just the west side of the roadway.
Marianiello and Acosta, who’s the co-director of local nonprofit Earth Care, are undeterred.
They see the permit as part of a larger issue of low-income and non-white neighborhoods bearing the brunt of industrial pollution.
Represented by attorneys Maslyn Locke and Eric Jantz with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, they appealed the department’s order in August, and a public hearing on the appeal is set for later this month.
“We demand equity and believe that residents on the Southside deserve the same quality of life as all residents of Santa Fe,” Marianiello, a Tierra Contenta resident, tells SFR. “It’s an environmental justice issue because just imagine if Associated Asphalt had put in an application for a location on Bishop’s Lodge or Canyon Road. I wonder how far that would’ve gotten.”
She and Acosta first joined with other Southside residents at a neighborhood meeting to discuss the permit in February 2020, shortly after the company submitted its application, and are calling themselves the Santa Fe Southside Environmental Justice Coalition.
Locke and Jantz signed on to represent them pro bono a little over a year ago.
Under the approved permit, Associated Asphalt can move all operations across Highway 599 from 3810 Oliver Drive to 86 Paseo de River St., which pushes production farther away from Tierra Contenta while maintaining about the same distance between the plant and Cottonwood Village Mobile Home neighborhood.
The consolidation, while not prohibited by the appeal, hasn’t yet begun, according to company spokeswoman Joanie Griffin. She says the company doesn’t have a firm timeline for the shift.
Residents have reasons to be worried about the company.
Reporting by SFR in spring 2020 revealed that an Air Quality Bureau investigator had found several potential problems at Associated Asphalt after a nearby resident complained about a foul odor and smoke in the air coming from the plant.
According to the inspection report, employees weren’t keeping consistent records of baghouse pressures—a measure of how many particles asphalt production is releasing into the air—and were only recording one set per day instead of the required two. The plant operator also didn’t know the proper response when a baghouse might be malfunctioning.
Since then, Associated Asphalt has “made improvements,” Griffin says.
In response to a question about how Santa Feans can trust that the issue has been resolved, Griffin writes in an email to SFR: “The new permit is more stringent with more transparency to the regulatory agency than the prior permit, and that should give the neighbors more comfort. We have been and will continue being a good neighbor.”
She says the new permit includes record-keeping conditions that will allow the environment department “to confirm that AAM is operating the way we are permitted to operate.”
Associated Asphalt also went 30 years without submitting a biennial emissions inventory, which is meant to monitor new trends in pollutants. (The company submitted an inventory in 2021.)
The submission failure “is likely a violation of the permit,” environment department spokesman Matt Maez writes in an email to SFR.
But the department hasn’t enforced that permit condition for a number of reasons, Maez writes, including “litigation risk associated with prior administration guidance on the topic of minor source emission inventory submission” and budget shortfalls within the department.
The company’s history aside, one of the main points of contention between the department and the Southside coalition centers around ambient air, which the US Environmental Protection Agency defines as “that portion of the atmosphere, external to buildings, to which the general public has access.”
The coalition argues in its appeal that the department’s decision to grant the permit allows Associated Asphalt “to exclude National Ambient Air Quality Standards exceedances found at nearby [private] properties,” not just its own. That’s an “inappropriate” definition of ambient air, Locke says.
The department disagrees, arguing in its response to the appeal that by definition, ambient air only exists in public areas, meaning that measurements found inside the property boundaries of other nearby industrial operations can be excluded from the department’s air quality modeling.
In the appeal, the coalition also alleges that the department curbed the ability of people with limited English proficiency to meaningfully participate in a hearing held in March 2021, which the department denies.
Those claims and a couple others are slated to be considered later this month.
The Environmental Improvement Board—the rulemaking body of the environment department—is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the appeal starting Feb. 23 (env.nm.gov/events-calendar). Anyone who wants to present technical evidence at the hearing must submit a statement of intent to the board by Feb. 8.
While it’s likely overturning the permit will be an uphill battle, Marianiello and Acosta say the stakes are high.
Marianiello’s involvement in the coalition is, in part, personal.She contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic and has been dealing with long-term effects ever since. She says she saw a doctor last summer who told her that her lungs had been damaged by the virus but that asthma was likely an underlying condition.
“I said, ‘How is that possible? I’m 66 years old and I’ve never had asthma in my entire life,’” Marianiello says. “But I’ve lived in Tierra Contenta near the asphalt facilities and the airport and other polluting industries since 2009 and it’s possible that I developed asthma from the pollution that exists here in our area of town.”
Acosta points to the disproportionately poor health of those living on the Southside.
“It’s the unhealthiest part of Santa Fe primarily because of social determinants of health and well-being,” Acosta tells SFR. “We look at equity not just in terms of equitable or equal access to resources but also equal exposure to risk. And we’re carrying all the risk on the Southside and none of the access to the resources.”