New Mexico has a long history of cleanup projects from mining and national laboratory activities and industrial pollution.
Now a training program aims to put northern New Mexicans to work on those projects.
Santa Fe Community College has received a $200,000 grant as part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency job training program.
The grant will fund training for 58 people to earn certifications in hazardous waste cleanup, environmental sampling, asbestos cleanup and mold remediation work.
“The training addresses environmental justice issues by developing a local skilled workforce to address environmental contamination and degradation,” said Rebecca Rowley, SFCC president. “We recruit participants from vulnerable communities who are experiencing negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, government and commercial operations and policies.”
The college will recruit unemployed or underemployed low-income people, rural Native Americans, veterans and youth in Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties and surrounding pueblos for the program.
Gil Vigil, executive director of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, said the program aligns with tribal leaders’ efforts to engage local residents in environmental cleanup.
“We need our own people in our own communities doing the actual work, because they understand their communities, and they know what their needs are,” Vigil said.
Training will be offered at the Santa Fe Higher Education Center and Northern New Mexico College in Española.
Santa Fe Community College has received two previous grants from the program, for a total of $700,000. Previous grants funded environmental job training for 144 people, and placed more than 100 in local jobs.
Rowley said the average starting hourly wage for the program graduates was between $17 and $18.50.
Ten program graduates are now employed at Los Alamos National Laboratories.
U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez said the grant will fund “life-changing workforce programs” in her district during a time of pandemic-induced unemployment.
“I always say we invest in the things we believe in, and this grant proves that we believe in our students and we believe in our communities,” Leger Fernandez said. “I hope this is just one of many more projects addressing our environmental and climate crisis while creating new jobs.”
SFCC is one of 18 institutions selected for this year’s grants.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.