The rulemaking arm of the New Mexico Environment Department in the coming months will issue a final order on Southside residents’ appeal of the department’s decision last July to grant Associated Asphalt and Materials a new permit, which allows the company to consolidate operations.
An Environmental Improvement Board public hearing on the appeal wrapped up Friday afternoon after nearly three full days of testimony from experts and residents.
Associated Asphalt’s new permit allows it to move all operations across Highway 599 from 3810 Oliver Drive to 86 Paseo de River St. The company hasn’t said when it plans to make the move.
Miguel Acosta, co-director of nonprofit Earth Care, and Tierra Contenta resident Linda Marianiello—represented by Maslyn Locke and Eric Jantz with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center—filed an appeal last August.
Acosta and Marianiello view the permit as part of a larger fight for low-income and non-white neighborhoods against environmental racism.
A handful of other Santa Feans weighed in during public comment.
“I believe this is an issue of serious concern for many engaged residents throughout our city and across the state,” said Katherine Shera, who noted that she doesn’t live on the Southside. “It’s time for NMED to side with the people, especially those residing in our most vulnerable communities, and to turn away from permitting practices of the past.”
Part of the dispute centers around the emissions modeling Associated Asphalt used in its permit application.
The Southside petitioners are concerned that the company won’t be in compliance with national ambient air quality standards because its modeling relies on federal estimates of expected emissions from the proposed source rather than “actual, source-specific and real time emission data” from existing operations, reads the appeal.
Since 1968, the US Environmental Protection Agency has published a document with guidance for estimating emissions from different sources called AP-42. It contains values, called emissions factors, used to calculate how much a facility might emit.
States including New Mexico grant permits based on those calculations (which applicants conduct and the department verifies), despite warnings from the EPA about inappropriate use.
“These factors are not likely to be accurate predictors of emissions from any one specific source, except in very limited scenarios,” reads an EPA alert from November 2020, which was discussed at the hearing.
In response to questions from board members about the alert, Kathleen Primm, a supervisor with the department’s Air Quality Bureau, said the emissions factors are “the best available tool that we have to calculate emissions.”
Primm added that the alert “is not a mandate.”
Richard Virtue, the hearing officer, is set to file his report and recommendation by the end of May, after windows for the transcript of the hearing and closing arguments and briefs to be submitted close.
The board will deliberate in the summer, at already-scheduled meetings either in June or July.