Residents encouraged to “take a deep breath” about Intel
Sandoval County Commission
After eighteen months of study, four consultants, and $200,000, the work of the Air Quality Task Force is finished, and it is my opinion that air emissions from Intel’s Rio Rancho plant are not harming surrounding residents.
As a member of that task force, I can honestly say I approached the issue from a neutral perspective. In fact, if I were to have any bias, my background suggests it would be against Intel. I have lived in Corrales for nineteen years with my wife, Cynthia, and our two children. I probably reside closer to Intel’s plant than any other elected official.
Additionally, as a county commissioner, my first interest is public health and safety. And, in my private life, I am a plaintiff's attorney, which means that I never represent corporations—I sue them.
So why am I reaching a conclusion that favors Intel? The answer, simply put, is that it is the only conclusion that is consistent with evidence presented to the task force.
Corrales Residents for Clean Air and Water has claimed for more than a decade that Intel’s emissions are harming residents. Intel, in turn, has consistently denied the claim.
Apart from generating newspaper articles, the controversy went nowhere until the task force was created to answer the ultimate question of whether air emissions from Intel are hazardous to health. Task-force members included all sides of the issue, along with the New Mexico Environment Department.
The group unanimously agreed to hire outside consultants to assist with the work. Early on, the task force wisely gave CRCAW and the Southwest Organizing Project major input in deciding on the consultants.
The consultants have issued their reports. Both air-monitoring and air-modeling studies have been completed. The final report—the Health Risk Assessment that used the monitoring and modeling data—concluded quite clearly that emissions from Intel’s Rio Rancho plant are not harmful to area residents.
That work, however, has not stopped the dialogue.
An employee of the state Department of Health disagrees with the Health Risk Assessment and has said the task force did not have enough information available to reach any firm conclusion one way or the other. Contrarily, the cabinet secretaries for both the state Department of Health and the Environment Department have disagreed with that view and maintain there is enough evidence to conclude that Intel’s emissions are not harmful to health of surrounding residents.
Meanwhile, both the Corrales group and the Southwest Organizing Project have rejected the consultants’ reports. The two groups’ main argument appears to be that the original monitoring was taken at a time when Intel’s production was low.
CRCAW did conduct its own monitoring for what it considered to be “peak” production periods by Intel but refused to release that data to the consultants despite pleas from the task force that the data be made public. The only explanation CRCAW has provided is that “it’s our data and we’re not going to produce it.”
Additionally, no medical records were ever submitted to the task force to support the residents’ claims that health problems were caused by Intel, nor were any medical doctors called to support CRCAW’s claim.
So, where does that leave us?
The bottom line: Considerable taxpayer money and resources have been spent to analyze the potential health effects of emissions from Intel’s local plant. Professionals hired by the task force have determined there are no adverse health consequences. And two state cabinet secretaries charged with protecting public health and our environment have agreed with that conclusion.
There is always more that could be done, but we have no evidence that additional studies will change any conclusions. And there still is no independent scientific evidence that a health problem actually exists.
It’s time we all stop, take a deep breath (pardon the pun), and start focusing on other areas of concern to our communities.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Ely may be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo 87004.
State proposes to regulate rainmaking
The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission will hold a public hearing on July 20 beginning at 1:00 p.m. in Wood Hall in the NEA Building at 130 S. Capital, first Floor, Santa Fe, and on additional days as necessary, to consider proposed regulations at 19.17.1 NMAC—Licensing of weather control and precipitation enhancement operations. The commission expects to take up the matter for decision at its August meeting or its next regular meeting thereafter.
The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission proposes these regulations pursuant to NMSA 1978 Section 75-3-14(A). The commission filed its proposed regulations on or about April 22, 2004, with all district offices of the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, where such regulations are available for public inspection.
The proposed regulations, as well as any comments and notices of intent to provide technical testimony or legal argument that have been submitted in electronic form, are posted on the Web page of the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. For further information, visit www.seo.state.nm.us and click on Hot Topics.
Uneasy breathing in a Utah town
Logan, in northern Utah, doesn’t make too many national headlines, but on January 15 it set a dubious record for the worst air quality in the country. The airborne microscopic particles registered higher than that of a city next to a raging forest fire.
The official record of 180 for p.m. 2.5 air pollution was subsequently called into question because of measuring differences, but even the revised level was twice what the EPA defines as “unhealthy.” It also remained the highest in the nation for that day.
The mayor and the health department were put in the awkward position of asking residents to feel better about air that was only “unhealthy” rather than “very unhealthy.” In any case, Cache County officials told children, older adults, and anybody with heart or lung disease to stay inside. Even daily joggers were forced to the indoor track or treadmills.
Other than that, the mayor was frequently quoted saying, “There is nothing we can do.” This may be true, but it ignores the past tense. Was there anything we could have done?
Logan isn’t used to setting records or to being called unhealthy. For the most part, the city loves anonymity and playing fifth or even sixth fiddle to other, more recognizable Utah red-rock or Redford destinations. Our size is officially about forty-five thousand, but the metro area is closer to sixty thousand, with the whole valley topping one hundred thousand. If you haven’t driven through here on your way to Yellowstone, you’ll probably have to reach for a map to find us. We like it that way.
I’m a twenty-three-year resident and, for the most part, an apologist for Logan. The names Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and even Salt Lake City rolled off our tongues like we were spitting out spoiled milk. A lot of us ran away from dirty, crowded cities like those to live here. So, what happened? Outside of FOX news and radio pundits, there are no easy answers. All the Mormons, gentiles, college kids, geezers, and the seventy-five thousand dairy cattle conspired to make this happen. Even the good green-hearted brethren contributed by burning wood to preserve fossil fuels, even though there are no hardwood trees in sight. It took a whole village to make this happen.
Like many towns, we tore up the streetcar tracks in the 1950s to make way for automobiles and parking spaces. We fought starting a city bus line until ten years ago. We built a downtown bypass route and then quickly gave up on it because we didn’t think the town was growing fast enough to need it.
We gave up on bike paths because we thought we were too rural to need those. We started fencing off the canal paths that crisscross the valley because neighbors were worried about privacy and personal liability. We courted big-box stores and chain restaurants because we had low self-esteem about what our town had to offer. All these new businesses went after the main-street property and installed a drive-through window for everything from dry cleaning to veggie wraps. We fought emission-controls testing on our cars because we didn’t want the extra hassle or cost. We decided that a view from the mountainsides was worth the commute.
In short, we inhaled deeply from the addictive tailpipe of the personal automobile. It was easy to convince ourselves that we weren’t addicted, but really we are just so deeply in denial that we can’t see it. Look closely. Everybody in my neighborhood shovels their driveways, but only about half of them shovel their sidewalks.
Of course, none of this makes us unique sinners on the American dreamscape. What makes us different is geography. The same things that make this a beautiful mountain valley conspire to create a lethal winter-inversion soup. Nothing that comes out of our cars, furnaces, wood stoves, power plants, and even our bucolic Holsteins leaves the valley during these winter inversions. This valley holds its sooty air in a close embrace.
The spin coming from the mayor and city council is that this is only an aberration. On average, we have much cleaner air than most cities. Dissenters are made to feel like Roy Schneider in the movie Jaws. Like that fictional beach town, Logan is beautiful most of the time, but sometimes, it could kill you.
Dennis Hinkamp is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He works for Utah State University in Logan, Utah.
Hands-on classes in solar electricity
Are you interested in solar electricity (photovoltaics)? How about siting, sizing, and safely installing your own PV system? If so, you can attend special classes in Albuquerque this summer.
All classes will start with three days in the classroom, including visiting instructors, tours of local PV systems and hands-on labs. The last two days will be spent installing a PV system. Marlene Brown, a member of the board of directors of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association, will be one of the instructors for both classes and has been working with PV systems for over fifteen years. She has installed hundreds of systems in the United States and in the developing world. She has also been teaching PV classes for over ten years. She will be joined by other PV experts. The class will also have a chance to hear from local PV business owners and installers. Depending on interest, there may be some evening slide shows and talks by members of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association.
Topics covered will include photovoltaic components, designing, sizing, siting, and stand-alone and grid-connected systems. Safety and energy efficiency will also be covered. Space is limited.
Class I will be held over two weekends, July 23-25 and July 31-August 1. This class will be an all-women hands-on photovoltaic class. This event is sponsored by Ecoversity. You can sign up for this class by e-mail at http://www.ecoversity.org or by calling (505) 424-9797, extension 10.
Class II will be a week-long hands-on class September 20-24, leading up to the New Mexico Energy Association's Solar Fiesta. This class is open to everyone. Instructors will be from NMSEA and Solar Energy International. This event is sponsored by both NMSEA and SEI. You can sign up for this class by contacting Solar Energy International at http://www.solarenergy.org or (970) 963-8855.