On May 1, under cover of darkness, the Albuquerque City Council voted to put thousands of Bernalillo County residents at risk for asthma, heart disease, cancer and other diseases associated with air pollution.
Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are becoming increasingly known for bad air quality – the American Lung Association recently gave Bernalillo County an “F” for air quality related to ozone – and the health effects associated with air pollution. But air pollution does not affect everyone in Albuquerque equally; air polluting industrial permits overwhelmingly impact low-income communities, and communities of color experience the adverse health impacts of air pollution disproportionately.
The Mountain View Coalition has stepped up and proposed a common-sense health, environment and equity impacts regulation that would, for the first time, meaningfully address the inequities of industrial air pollution permitting in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County and protect the health of the most overburdened communities like ours. The Mountain View Coalition proposed the regulation to the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board, which has jurisdiction over air quality in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.
Shockingly, rather than embracing a regulation that will make Albuquerque a better place to live for everyone, the City Council, led by Councilor Dan Lewis, voted to oppose this community-driven measure. Instead of supporting a regulation that will save Albuquerque tens of millions of dollars in health-related costs and which will encourage clean businesses to move to Albuquerque, the council voted for the status quo, continuing to punish our low-income, overburdened communities.
Lewis’ position on this issue is not surprising, given that he works for a fuel supply company that has a financial stake in maintaining business as usual regarding the issuance of air pollution permits that result in maintaining Albuquerque’s poor air quality. Shame on him and those who supported his resolution; he should have recused himself from voting on any bill that regulates air pollution due to his day job. But the other councilors who voted for the resolution cannot hide behind their own financial interests. It is inexcusable and inexplicable they would vote for a position that pits them squarely at odds with the health, well-being and quality of life of many of their constituents.
The council’s vote for polluted air also undermines other city efforts to make Albuquerque a more equitable city where all residents are valued. Albuquerque recently received a national award for its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, however, the council’s vote sends the message equity is not a priority and low-income Burqueños and communities of color are unworthy of breathing clean air.
We want all residents to have a safe environment to live in. We should come together and work collaboratively to get an equitable regulation in place, as is happening in other communities across our country.
Despite the council’s position that some communities in Albuquerque are suitable for sacrifice so dirty industries may profit, the Mountain View Coalition and its allies will continue to advocate for their proposed regulation that will both protect public health and bring economic benefit to the city. As residents of one of the most overburdened communities in Bernalillo County, we have the most at stake in the fight for breathable air where we live, work, play and pray.