New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn correctly wants to ensure that penalties assessed against air quality violators are used for environmental improvements for the affected communities and are relevant to the violations themselves.
Ryan has revised the Environment Department’s Air Quality Bureau Civil Penalty Policy, including penalty agreements known as Supplemental Environmental Projects or SEPs, which allow a polluter to voluntarily take on a project in lieu of a portion of the civil penalty. The projects must align with the department’s environmental mission and goals.
In light of what Flynn and other NMED officials say have been past abuses of SEP enforcement powers, probably the most significant changes prohibit NMED or Air Quality Bureau employees from recommending SEP projects and ensure that projects do “not involve any donation or gift of any kind to any individual or entity, including a nonprofit organization or a federal state or local government entity.”
Flynn cited several examples of what he is trying to correct, including a 2008 donation under the administration of former Gov. Bill Richardson of more than half a million dollars in SEP penalties to the Western Governors Association to fund the Western Climate Initiative. Flynn said $20,000 also went to a nongovernmental organization called the Climate Registry.