The El Paso Border Office of the EPA, headed by Dr. Carlos Rincon, held a tri-state public meeting in Anthony, New Mexico, last night to listen to environmental concerns of citizens in the three-state border region. The event, held at the Anthony Women's Cultural Center, drew a crowd of about 80 persons, and was part of the U.S.-Mexico Border 2012 Program. Mayor Ramon S. Gonzalez welcomed citizens of the border to Anthony.
Anthony city councilwoman Betty Gonzalez made a strongly worded presentation about air, water, and land contamination stemming from "Dairy Row," the string of dairy operations in the South Mesilla Valley. She argued that since the November 18, 2005, executive order by Governor Bill Richardson, seeking an all-cabinet examination of environmental problems in the South Mesilla Valley, "nothing has changed," because the state's regulatory agencies "cowtow to the powerful interests" responsible for contamination. Her remarks were echoed by Jerry Nivens, of Caballo, and by others in the audience, including Mesquite Community Action Committee chair Arturo Uribe, who pointedly asked EPA officials what the federal government intended to do to increase enforcement of existing laws regulating the dairy industry and landfills in the region.
New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry, present at the meeting, replied to these complaints in ways that appeared to validate their concerns. "Sixty three percent of the dairies in New Mexico," he said, have been found to be operating in violation of existing regulations, and his office, he argued has been aggressive in creating a viable set of regulations for the industry, called the "Dairy Rule." These regulations will be issued in December of this year. But, he said, the dairy industry, thwarted in their efforts to write these regulations, went to the governor to try to stop the proceedings and are now engaged in a major effort to seek a repeal of the regulations in the state legislature. He predicted a strong lobby effort in this direction at the next legislative session.
**Dr. Rene Franco, from Cd. Juarez, announced that a treatment plant will be completed by May, 2011, enabling treaty water (delivered to Juarez from Elephant Butte Dam) to be used by the city of Juarez as drinking water.
**Carlos Antonio Ramirez Telles, President of the Technical Committee on Groundwater in Northern Chihuahua, issued a statement about the dangers of over-appropriation in the water basin in that region. The water table has fallen in recent years from 90 ft. to 400 feet in certain areas, after the number of wells increased from 300 to 1750, and he asserted it would take an estimated 100 years of total abstinence in the use of groundwater to restore the aquifer.
**An official of the New Mexico Department of Health reviewed plans for a four-year project to evaluate air quality monitoring in the tri-state region, to evaluate air quality regulations, and to collect data on the incidence of respiratory problems reported by hospitals in the region.
A larger, border-wide meeting of the EPA will be held in December, at which time plans for the successor program to Border 2012 will be more mature. It is not expected that there will be many changes to the "bottom up" character of Border 2012, which implies that local communities should continue to articulate environmental concerns to EPA officials as meetings such as the one held in Anthony last night.