The Permit that Broke the Camel’s Lungs

When will the air pollution in Albuquerque’s low-income neighborhoods of color be too much?

This Wednesday, a hearing will convene to determine the fate of a permit for the Honstein bulk fuel facility. The facility, which operated its 6,000 gallon fuel tank for decades without a permit, is located in the San Jose neighborhood of the South Valley of Albuquerque. San Jose has a history of environmental injustice: a majority of residents are Latino/a, and more than 4 in 10 children live at or below the poverty line.

And though the neighborhood is only home to 1% of the County’s population, it is home to 29% of the county’s air pollution permits. The Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Environmental Health Department (EHD) approved the permit for the Honstein tank in 2013; we won the opportunity to have a hearing in 2015 to appeal the permit. But this case is about far more than just one permit….

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At issue is the right of the City to grant air pollution permits without taking into account “cumulative impacts” – that is, how the emissions from one facility will affect public health and quality of life when considered in the context of all the other emitting facilities in the area.  We argue that EHD is breaking several laws and an international accord (to which the US is a signatory) when it considers each facility in a regulatory vacuum.

The Honstein permit allows the facility to emit 2.26 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year. Taken with other stationary sources in San Jose neighborhood, however, residents are exposed to at least 330 tons per year (which does not include emissions from mobile sources such as cars, trucks and trains). VOCs include compounds such as benzene and diesel – compounds linked to asthma, cancer, pulmonary disease and heart disease. The outcome of this case will affect not only San Jose residents, but could impact how facilities are regulated in other mixed-use neighborhoods of color in Albuquerque, including the International District, Greater Gardner, and Wells Park.

Wednesday January 11th through Friday, January 13th | hearing begins at 9 AM
Public comment at after 5 PM
Albuquerque Convention Center, 401 2nd Street, NW [get map]
Upper Level, East Complex, Pecos/Ruidoso Meeting Room

(See notice of public hearing)

“Air quality affects everything we do. It impacts health, quality of life, lifespan, and even has been linked to autism,” says Law Center lead counsel Eric Jantz. “Yet EHD has fought the residents of San Jose neighborhood for years. It has paid tens of thousands of taxpayer-funded dollars to hire consultants to supports its assertions that there is no air quality problem in the South Valley. It has tried to shut the public out of decision-making at every turn – an action it does not take when dealing with residents from wealthier sections of town.” Representing the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) and Esther and Steven Abeyta (residents of San Jose), Eric is urging the Air Quality Board to require EHD to examine cumulative impacts for the Honstein facility and for every facility that seek permits in San Jose and other vulnerable neighborhoods.

Law Center members are making it possible for us to take part in one of the most significant environmental justice cases in New Mexico – the fight for clean air for everyone in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, and not just those who can afford it.


What you can do to make a difference:

Attend the hearing and provide a comment during the public comment period after 5pm.
Albuquerque Convention Center, 401 2nd Street, NW [get map]
Upper Level, East Complex, Pecos/Ruidoso Meeting Room
(Be sure to sign up in the Pecos Room.)

Follow the action on Twitter @NMELC, @Swopista, @NMELC_Eric.

Sign up to the event on Facebook and share the news.

Submit written comments via email to:
Andrew Daffern at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  The subject line should refer to AQCB Petition No. 2014-4. 

Submit a letter to the editor to the Albuquerque Journal.

Here are some talking points:

  • Honstein Oil is located in close proximity to families living right across the street. There are children playing in front of the business. The Environmental Health Department and the Air Quality Board should do something to protect the families.

  • Honstein Oil is contributing to the deterioration of air quality in San Jose.

  • Honstein Oil, petrol-chemical offloading from rail cars and Western Asphalt Refinery cumulatively and negatively impact the air quality in San Jose.

  • It does not make sense to locate Honstein Oil in a residential neighborhood that is suffering from disparate impacts from polluting industries.

  • San Jose represents 1% of City of Albuquerque’s population and this neighborhood has 29% of the city’s polluting industry.

  • Everyone always complains about not having polluting businesses in our back yard. Why are polluting industries always located in San Jose’s back yard?

  • There was an air bucket brigade that tested the air quality in San Jose and found high levels of chlorobenzene in front of Honstein Oil. This is a major reason the air permit for Honstein Oil should not be granted.

  • The Environmental Health Department and Air Quality Board main purpose is to protect the health of citizens living in Albuquerque yet these two groups are in opposition the San Jose neighborhood and are protecting Honstein Oil. This is against the purpose and mission statement of the two entities.

  • I am coming here today to testify about the environmental injustice that is happening to the community of San Jose and the lack of protection being offered by the groups whose duty is to protect the vulnerable. The Air Quality Control Board needs to deny the Honstein air permit and say yes to protecting the families living close to Honstein Oil.

  • The Environmental Health Department and Air Quality Board for years have been aware of the air quality issues in San Jose and have not done a thing to address the odors of Chlorobenzene in San Jose.

  • The Environmental Health Department and Air Quality Board needs to look at the amount all of the polluting industries in San Jose that are contributing high pollution levels in the neighborhood of San Jose.

Posted on 01/09/2017 • PermalinkBack to top


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